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Ex-cricketer Gaekwad, epitome of courage, now fighting cancer; he needs help

Even as the nation celebrates the historic victory of the Indian cricket team in the ICC men’s T20 World Cup, one brave cricketer lies in a hospital bed fighting a lonely battle against the dreaded disease of cancer. His name is Anshuman Gaekwad. During his cricket career, he was known for his courage in facing ferocious fast bowlers like Michael Holding, Andy Roberts, and others.

According to former star players Sandeep Patil and Dilip Vengsarkar, his close friends, he needs financial help. Patil has requested the BCCI to provide assistance to Gaekwad who has been suffering for several months.

Gaekwad’s batting may have lacked the elegant grace of G R Vishwanath but he compensated for it with his determination and bravery. In some respects, he was like Sunil Gavaskar although he did not compile impressive scores. What made him similar to Gavaskar was that once he got to the middle of the batting order, it was extremely difficult to prise him out.

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Bloodiest tour in Indian history

Gaekwad was a member of the team that toured the West Indies in 1975-76. It was one of the scariest and bloodiest series in India’s cricket history.

Correspondingly it was also the darkest chapter of West Indies cricket. The spirit of sport was tarnished by the conduct of the host team during that tour.

Before that series, the West Indies had been pulverised by fast bowlers Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson in Australia. So when the West Indies faced India, they were determined to use the same tactics that Australia had used against them.

Lloyd’s instructions

Before the fourth Test, skipper Clive Lloyd, under pressure to deliver a victory, decided to throw out all spinners and rely entirely on a new crop of fast bowlers. He gave them the freedom to terrorise the batsmen by whatever means they could. Spurred by such instructions, bowlers like Michael Holding, Wayne Daniel, Bernard Julien, and Vanburn Holder went on a rampage.

Intimidation tactics and injuries

The pacers went around the wicket and targetted the batsmen’s body. Mohinder Amarnath, one of the most fearless batsmen in the team, was peppered with short-pitched deliveries and then dismissed. G.R. Vishwanath’s finger was broken by another delivery and Brijesh Patel was hit on the face. It was carnage. The blood of Indian batsmen lay sprinkled on the ground. The place looked like a battlefield.

Stood like a lion

But like a lion, the tall Anshuman Gaekwad stood firm. He scored 81 runs although he was hit repeatedly on the hand and body. The violent crowd chanted “Hit him, hit him” thereby encouraging the fast bowlers to do their worst. The spirit of cricket vanished that day and lynch mob mentality took over.

Gaekwad faced a barrage of bouncers and finally, he failed to avoid one such ball and was hit on the head just behind his ear. In those days there were no helmets so a blow like that could kill a man. A similar thing happened to Nari Contractor in the West Indies in 1962.

Gaekwad fell to the ground and shockingly the spectators cheered. The atmosphere was not one of cricket. It was a mad frenzy of bloodlust by a howling mob. The unconscious batter was rushed to hospital straight from the ground and thankfully he later recovered. In India’s second innings, five players could not bat and were declared “absent injured.”

What Wisden wrote

According to an article published in Wisden magazine after the tour had ended, the Indian team with many players swathed in bandages, resembled Napoleon’s French army when it returned from Moscow.

But that was the kind of raw courage that our batsmen needed in those days. Pitches were tailored to suit fast bowlers, there was no restriction on bouncers, no protective headgear was available and four fast bowlers bowled constantly at the face and body ball after ball. It needed tremendous courage and Gaekwad was among the bravest of the brave.

He was willing to shed his blood for the Indian flag and on several occasions he did so without flinching. But ironically, today he is struggling, fighting a lonely battle with a dreaded opponent. The whole country is caught up in the happy mood of victory while an intrepid ex-cricketer needs help. Will anyone respond to his situation?

One hopes his sacrifices will be remembered and someone, especially from the cricket community or those benefiting from cricket mania will come forward with help soon.

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