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The albedo effect refers to the ability possessed by a surface to reflect light. For example, about 30 % of the sun’s radiation is reflected back and away by the Earth’s surface. Gundappa Ranganatha Viswanath, fondly known to the cricketing world as “Vishy” had a similar albedo effect on his adoring fans. The more faith you reposed in the maestro, the more love you showered on him, he reflected back the confidence a thousand fold. Emblematic of an astounding degree of humility, Vishy possessed a steely reserve and supple wrists that made him one of the most engaging and extraordinary batsmen to watch.
In “Wrist Assured”, Vishy, ably aided and abetted by the redoubtable veteran journalist R. Kaushik, recounts his illustrious cricketing sojourn (India never lost a game of cricket where Vishwanath made a century, and he notched up 14 of these), in a startlingly matter-of-fact manner that is memorably endearing. The son of a stenographer from the industrial town of Bhadravati, whose employment with the Mysore State Electricity Board brought the family to the city of Bangalore, Vishy had cricket in his DNA. Paying scant regard to academics, a young Vishy made batting a way of life. A month shy of his 11th birthday found Vishy transported into a rarefied realm. He furtively touched his sporting hero, the aesthetic and brilliant Australian batsman Neil Harvey who was part of the 1960 Australian tour to India, as and when Harvey made his way down the team bus.
A refreshingly honest attempt at strengths and vulnerabilities, Wrist Assured makes for absolutely wonderful reading. Vishy, as usual, is effusive (as he was on the field) in giving credit where it is due. For example, he reserves his highest respect, nay reverence to the debonair Nawab of Pataudi, Mansur Ali Khan Jr for making him realise the need for his magically supple wrists to be complemented by a degree of strength. When the former India skipper asked Vishy to practice weight training by lifting a couple of buckets filled with water, the latter was initially under the impression that the Nawab was pulling his leg. But this piece of wisdom led to Vishy regaling the entire cricketing world with a repertoire of strokes that were emblematic of pure genius.
The introductory chapter acts as a delectable appetizer for the much vaunted main course. Passages of wistful nostalgia takes the reader to a setting ripe for a surprise party to usher in Vishy’s 70th birthday. His iconic brother-in-law Sunil Gavaskar acts as the main perpetrator of the crime by springing a pleasant surprise on Vishy, by manifesting himself at dinner along with some of Vishy’s best friends on and off the field such as Anshuman Gaekwad, Roger Binny etc.
Similarly a fond reminiscence of a spontaneous trip to Ooty instigated by the Nawab of Pataudi makes for some fascinating reading. Idling away amidst an idyllic setting, Vishy and Pataudi are regaled by Pataudi’s wife, Sharmila Tagore and by Rajesh Khanna, who at the time was at the apogee of his acting prowess.
Vishy’s cricketing debut was an exercise in philosophical meditation. He experienced the entire spectrum of Yin and Yang in his very first international outing. Facing Ian Chappell’s Australians at Kanpur, the diminutive batsman clocked an ignominious duck and while he was dejectedly making his way back to the pavilion was pelted, literally, with matkas and jeers. But in the very next innings he atoned for his lapse by scoring an astonishing 137 and getting the very same crowd to give him a standing ovation. This incident also encapsulated in surgical precision, the fickle minded nature of the Indian spectator who is fueled by expectation and lubricated by emotion. As Vishy writes, “Kanpur was an unforgettable experience. Four days of anxiety and uncertainty, followed by two outlook-altering, path-charting days of unfettered joy. I wasn’t just a Test cricketer now, I was a Test centurion too.”
Vishy also holds a record that might be unique for any cricketer in general, and batsman in particular. Every time, he notched a hundred in a Test Match – he accumulated 14 of them – India either went on to win the game or draw it. India never lost a single Test Match in which Vishy recorded a ton! This master batsman played for India 91 times in Test matches making 6,080 runs. He has also been conferred with the Padma Shri and Arjuna Awards for his contribution to the sport. Vishy was also involved in various administrative capacities following his retirement from the game.
“Wrist Assured” is as subtle, supple, and succinct as the seraphic 97 he scored in Chepauk, on 11th January 1975 against a brutally fast and hostile West Indian fast bowling attack led by the redoubtable Andy Roberts. “What 97?” you ask. Well it will take an entire book, if not more to describe that stunning and surreal piece of artistry alone!