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By Partab Ramchand
In nearly 100 of his 125 Tests Sunil Gavaskar opened with three partners and they all make a fascinating study in contrast. Chetan Chauhan, Anshuman Gaekwad and Kris Srikkanth could not have been more different in their approach but they all struck a bond with the supreme technician and the result was some of the most successful first wicket partnership stories in Indian cricket history.
Gavaskar and Chauhan, in fact, would probably find a place in the top ten of successful pairings in Test history. Vijay Merchant and Mushtaq Ali are the legendary pair in Indian cricket but their association was restricted to just four Tests. However in this short period they ran up a marvelous record piecing together 584 runs at an average of 83.42 with three partnerships over the fifty mark, one century stand and one double century stand. It is a pity that they didn’t open in more Tests for, in their own very different ways, they struck up an effective association. As one critic quaintly put it "they were as different as curry and rice and just as effective in combination."
There were a few fairly successful opening partnerships since the Merchant–Mushtaq pairing, notably Vinoo Mankad and Pankaj Roy who established the world record 413 runs against New Zealand at Madras in 1956 which stood for over half a century as the mark to beat. But somehow it was fitting that the most durable and successful pairing in Indian cricket came along after Gavaskar’s entry into international cricket. He had a number of partners in his initial Tests and first struck up a partnership with Chauhan against England at Madras in 1973. It wasn’t very successful and was dissolved within two matches only for them to join forces in Australia in 1977-78. For over three years thereafter the duo solved India’s long standing problem at the top of the order and by the end of their last Test together in New Zealand in March 1981 they had pieced together 3010 runs in 36 Tests at an average of 53.75 with ten century partnerships; the highest being the famous 213 against England at the Oval in 1979. Their success at the top of the order played a major role in India’s improved showing during this period.
Actually in the interim period when Chauhan was out of favour Gaekwad had become Gavaskar’s partner. He had started out in the middle order but his gutsy qualities marked him out as a possible success as an opening batsman and he was duly given a chance first in the famous match at Port of Spain in 1976 when India scored 406 for four to register one of the most remarkable wins in Test cricket. Gaekwad did do his bit scoring 28 and putting on 69 runs with Gavaskar as India embarked on their monumental task. In the following Test at Kingston he displayed his courage in immeasurable terms standing up to the blatantly unfair bowling by Michael Holding and company to score 81 before he had to retire hurt. But he did put on 136 runs with Gavaskar, the first of four century partnerships the two were to figure in the highest being 176 (unbroken) against Pakistan at Bangalore in 1983.
The success of the Gavaskar–Chauhan pairing ended the association but when a suitable replacement for Chauhan couldn’t be found the selectors recalled Gaekwad and the be-spectacled opener was back for the series in the West Indies in 1983. The two were again fairly successful before Gaekwad was dropped for good after the Test against England at Calcutta in 1984-85 following a run of disappointing scores. Still their overall record in a fairly long association is pretty creditable with the two adding together a total of 1733 runs in 30 Tests at an average of 34.
Interestingly enough Gaekwad was replaced by Srikkanth who had become Gavaskar’s partner following the axing of Chauhan. The swashbuckler from Madras was not initially successful and was dropped. But once he got a second chance he never looked back and remained Gavaskar’s partner right through a fairly successful and busy period in the mid 80s till the great man’s retirement. The two brought back memories of Merchant and Mushtaq and Gavaskar himself admitted that he scored faster because of the presence of Srikkanth at the other end. In all the two opened in 23 Tests piecing together 1469 runs at an average of 43.20 with three century partnerships the highest being 200 against Pakistan at Madras in 1987.
The overall records of Chauhan, Gaekwad and Srikkanth are fairly similar. Chauhan played 40 Tests, scored 2084 runs at an average of 31.57 but was unfortunate in not getting a century with 97 being his highest. Gaekwad and Srikkanth were luckier when it came to three figures, each registering two. Gaekwad too played 40 Tests scoring 1985 runs at an average just over 30 while Srikkanth figured in 43 Tests scoring 2061 runs at an average of a shade below 30. Today while all three are remembered as Gavaskar’s reliable partners at the top of the order not unexpectedly it is the Gavakar-Chauhan pairing that lingers in memory the most.