BENGALURU: In 1960, an aspiring cricketer, barely 11 years old from sporting-rich South Bengaluru, watched his hero – Australia’s Neil Harvey-in action against an Indian Universities team in a tour match at the erstwhile Central College ground.
The youngster was in awe of the left-handed great’s fearlessness and dominance over the bowlers. It left a deep impact on the child, who then made a resolution to play for India.
His dreams were almost extinguished when at 15, he was told he was too young and short to make it to the state schools’ team. Disappointed, but unwilling to give up, he continued to pile on the runs and a few years later, scored a sparkling double-century (230) on debut for Mysore state (now Karnataka) against Andhra in Vijayawada. That was only the beginning of his storied journey in Indian cricket.
Short in stature, towering in deeds, he was an artiste who showcased bold batting. The silken square cuts were as revered as his on-field grace and fair play. Humble and endearing off-field, the legend goes by the name Gundappa Ranganath Vishwanath.
Born on Feb 12, 1949, in Bhadravati, an industrial town in picturesque Shivamogga district, GRV- as the genial maestro is known -moved to Bengaluru as a four-year-old. From the time he picked up a bat, all he ever wanted to do was play cricket. He did, and how! In a career spanning almost a decade-and-half, he featured in 91 Test matches, scoring 6,080 runs including 14 centuries.
GRV, who turns 75 on Monday, remains as grounded as he was 55 years ago, when he scored 137 in the second innings of his Test debut against Australia in Kanpur in 1969.
Speaking to TOI on the eve of his landmark birthday, the diminutive genius’ humour was as exquisite as his stroke-making.
“We always celebrate milestones. I’m grateful and thank God for keeping me going at 75. I’m looking forward to going further because being a cricketer, I always feel once you reach 50 and then 75, you look for the century. That said, this is the time to work really, really hard to get that 100. I plan to play as straight as I can. I didn’t do that earlier, probably this is the right time to play straight and safe to stay healthy,” he remarked.
The middle child of seven born to G Ranganath, a stenographer with the Mysore State Electricity Board, and Savitramma, a homemaker, GRV recalled the contribution of his parents in shaping his career.
“My parents were helpful. While I had nephews and nieces who were very academic-oriented, I wasn’t inclined towards studies. I only wanted to play sport. Any parent would want their children to concentrate on academics and my parents were no different. But once they realised that I wanted to pursue cricket, they supported me and helped in shaping my career, the way I wanted to. They were very proud of me.”
GRV got emotional while speaking about his maternal grandfather Muthanna, who offered him unconditional support.
“My maternal grandfather Muthanna lived in Lakkenahalli, Gubbi. Till I was about 11 or 12, I spent all my summer holidays at his home. We were a huge family and I played a lot of cricket there. When I started playing age-group and state cricket, he was very emotional about how my career was shaping up. He took great pride in my journey. The love, affection and encouragement I got from him meant a lot to me,” he added.
While Harvey was GRV’s boyhood hero, he spoke about the other men who played a defining role in his career.
“My hero was always Neil Harvey. My brother Jagannath helped me a lot when I was coming up the ranks. When I started playing for the state, stalwarts like EAS Prasanna and V Subramanya were very encouraging. Once I got into the Indian team, players like ML Jaisimha and my first captain, Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, offered me unstinting encouragement and believed in my talent. That mattered a lot and helped me grow as a cricketer,” recollected GRV.
Although GRV played his last Test match in 1983, he continued to represent Karnataka. His love for his home state is well-documented and even today, he is never too busy to offer advice to any youngster who seeks it.
On the reasons behind it, he dwelled, “I’m not retired from Test cricket. I was dropped. Until 1987, I played for the state. I wanted to continue playing for the state because a couple of youngsters were around. If I retired, I could still go to the dressing room. But it is different going there as a player and as an ex-player. I wanted to play with these people because I wanted Karnataka to become more solid. For me, whichever team I played for, I loved playing for them.”
Known to play cricket and live life on his own terms, GRV has few regrets in life.
“I’ve enjoyed the way I have played and I don’t want to change it. I probably missed out on a few centuries. They don’t worry me personally, but my three-figure marks always came in winning causes, so I could have played longer innings and helped India win more matches. That is something that still worries me. But I continue to enjoy the love and affection people shower on me.”
On his big day, GRV has one thing on his wish list. “I want to be born again to play cricket and become a more solid player.”