‘Little Master’ Sunil Gavaskar Now Bats for Children with Congenital Heart Condition

By Pramod Kulkarni

Donors and wellwishers gathered around the Little Master Sunil Gavaskar (center in brown vest) after the fund raiser for the Heart to Heart Foundation at India House, Photo: Bijoy Dixit/Unique Photo Images

HOUSTON: Sunil “Sunny” Gavaskar, the legendary Indian cricket opening batsman, was dubbed affectionately as the Little Master. He was little alright. At 5’5”, he was at least a foot shorter than the mighty West Indies pace bowlers he faced without a helmet. But he was a master at straight-bat strokes that enabled him set test records of the time (1971-1987) — 125 test matches, 214 innings, 10,122 runs, 34 centuries, and highest score of 236. He also scored a century in ODIs.

Gavaskar’s career as a broadcaster and color analyst continues to this day. However, he has started a new inning — batting for the Heart to Heart Foundation that has provided more than 20,000 free surgeries for children battling congenital heart disease under his Chairmanship. While the treatment is underway, the parents can stay in an adjacent dormitory at no cost. The parents try to pay back for the treatment to the best of their ability by working in the gardens or kitchens.

Gavaskar was in Houston last Sunday at a India House fund raiser for the Heart to Heart Foundation. This was a follow-up to a fund raising tour he had conducted in 2019 at 10 cities in North America, but had not included any city in Texas.

This time, Gavaskar’s first stop was at the AAPI convention in San Antonio prior to the Houston event. At all these fund raisers, the presentation consists of an interview session with Arvind Thiagrajan of the Heart to Heart Foundation, describing various anecdotes that spanned his legendary career.

There are annually 300,000 children born in India with a congenital heart condition (CHD). Most of these children are suffering from malnutrition as children of daily wage earners. Without surgery or medical treatment, over 25% of these children die before their first birthday. The Heart to Heart Foundation conducts surgeries and cath treatments for these children at no cost to the parents. The foundation operates three Sai Sanjeevani hospitals in India in Atal Nagar, Chhattisgarth; Palwal in Haryana, and Kharghar in Navi Mumbai. Three more hospitals are in planning stages in Fiji, Telangana, and even Mississippi. The hospitals have a 99% success rate.

Since becoming part of the Heart to Heart Foundation, Gavaskar himself has pledged to fund 35 surgeries on his own each year to match his 35 centuries. He explained that he was inspired to help the CHD children because his own test career would not have taken off if not given a second cricketing life at the score of 12 by Garfield Sobers during his first test inning by missing a simple sitter of a catch at the slips, and how he went on to score a half century. Later on, Gavaskar was given a second chance once again by Sobers at the score of 6 and he went on to score his first 100. “I went on to keep my place in the India’s test team for 17 years,” Gavaskar explained. “That’s why this cause resonates with me. We’re giving a second chance to a child born with CHD. When I see the joy in their parents’ expressions, it is for me a joy greater than scoring a century.”

Each CHD surgery costs $2,000. As an incentive to donate, Gavaskar had promised to sign a bat for each $2,000 donation. A long line of donors gathered after the India House presentation to have their bats signed by the Little Master.

Gavaskar has cricket in his genes. His uncle Madhav Mantri played four test matches for India in the 1950s. During the Houston presentation, Gavaskar explained how his uncle taught him the value of earning a test cap. “He had a cupboard with all his cricket blazers, woolen jumpers, and caps lined up,” recalled Gavaskar. “I was about 9 years old and I picked up a cap and said I am going to keep this. But my uncle refused, saying these are all the caps I have earned. You’ll have to earn your own caps. I remembered this lesson when I walked onto the field the first time as a test cricketer for India.”

Gavaskar recounted an incident that his mother told him occurred a few days at the hospital after his birth. There were many babies in the ward. Sunil was born with a slight hole on one of his ears. When one of his uncles came for a second visit, he noticed that the baby next to the mother did not not have the hole in the ear. “There was great panic in the ward,” Gavaskar recounted. “Finally, I was found near a fisherwoman. So, I could have easly spent my life as a fisherman on the coastline of Mumbai … and look how many times I got out fishing outside the off stump!”
There was also a lesson early in life about playing through pain. “I was about three years old and my mother was tossing me a rubber ball and I was batting with a plastic bat. Once I connected and hit my mother on the nose, drawing blood. I was mortified, but my mother made sure I continued to play because if one is going to be a cricket player, it is necessary to play through the pain.”

How did Sunny’s straight drive perfection come about? “When we practiced near home in Bombay, we had narrow lanes to play. There was a building on one side and a building on the other side. So the only was to score runs was to hit the ball as straight as possible! A straight drive to the boundary is a supreme insult to a pace bowler.”

Gavaskar considers India’s World Cup win 1983 under Captain Kapil Dev as his greatest achievement in cricket. He was pleased with the recent movie ‘83’ that was made by director Kabir Khan. Within the context of a movie, Gavaskar thought the presentation was quite authentic. “I was pleased that my role was played a good looking actor (Tahir Raj Bhasin).”

The Houston audience came away from the evening with great appreciation for the Little Master as a legendary cricketer and also as a philanthropist with a heart.

For more information on the Heart to Heart Foundation, visit www.h2h.foundation.