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Gavaskar remembers opening partner Chetan Chauhan: ‘Arre baba you are the century maker, not me’

Chetan Chauhan passes away on Sunday.

Former India captain Sunil Gavaskar pens a moving tribute to his longest-serving opening partner Chetan Chauhan, who died of COVID-19 related complications on Sunday.

By Sunil Gavaskar

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“Aaja, aaja, gale mil, after all we are in the mandatory overs of life” was the usual greeting of my opening partner Chetan Chauhan whenever we met over the last two or three years. The meetings were invariably at his beloved Ferozeshah Kotla ground where he was in charge of the pitch preparation. As we hugged I would say to him that “no, no we must have another century partnership” and he would laugh and then say “arre baba you are the century maker, not me”.

Never in my wildest nightmares could I believe that his words about being in the mandatory overs of life would come true so soon. It’s so hard to believe that his laughter and cheerful banter won’t be there the next time I go to Delhi.

Talking of centuries, I firmly believe that I was responsible for him missing out on two occasions, both in Australia in the 1980/81 series Down under. In the second Test in Adelaide he was on 97 when my teammates pulled me out of my chair in front of the TV and dragged me to the players balcony saying I must get there to cheer my partner.

I was a bit superstitious about watching from the players enclosure as then the batsman would get out and so would always watch on the dressing room TV.

Once the landmark was reached, then I would rush to the players balcony and join in the cheers. However, here I was in the Adelaide balcony when Dennis Lillee came in to bowl and would you believe Chetan was caught behind first ball. I was livid and told the players off for having got me to the balcony but that wasn’t going to change what had happened.

A few years later, I didn’t make the same mistake when Mohammad Azharuddin was approaching his third consecutive hundred in Kanpur and as soon as he got to the coveted mark I was out of the change room and applauding him from next to the sightscreen.

However, some of my friends in the media who had the knives out for me then made a big story of my so called absence. Amazingly, they had had nothing to say about the absence of some when a year earlier I got my 29th century to be level with Sir Don Bradman in Delhi.

The second occasion that I believe I was responsible for Chetan missing a hundred was when I lost my head after being abused by the Australians as I was leaving the pitch after a terrible decision. Trying to drag Chetan off the field with me must have disrupted his concentration and he was again out short of a century a little later.

There’s one thing that few players of my generation and the one immediately after that don’t know is his contribution in getting tax exemptions for them. Both of us first met up with the late Shri R Venkataraman, who was the Finance minister of the country then and requested him to consider a tax exemption for fees received for playing for India.

In this aspect, must add that it wasn’t just for cricket but for all sportspersons who played for India. We explained how when we were junior cricketers we had to spend a lot of money on equipment, travel, coaches, etc when we had no income at all.

Shri Venkatramanji was most considerate and in a notification he passed a ruling that gave us 75 per cent standard deduction for a Test match fee then an exemption on 50 per cent of the tour fees which we received before leaving for a tour.

The cherry on the cake though was the total exemption on the One-day match fees of 750 which we received those days. Mind you we barely played a game or two of one-day international then. That notification was in place till about 1998 by which time the number of one-day internationals had increased dramatically as also the fees which were around 1 lakh or so.

So around the mid-90s players were getting about 25 lakh or more free of tax. Even after my retirement I would give a copy of the notification to the newcomers in the Indian team for them to give to their accountants. Chetan always said that if we are asked what was our best contribution to Indian cricket we should say that it was getting the exemptions for the cricketing fraternity.

His desire to help others manifested in him joining politics and right till the end he was a giver, not a taker. He had a wicked sense of humour too. His favourite song as we walked out to face some of the most hostile bowlers in the game was “muskura ladle muskura”. That was his way of easing the nerves while confronting challenges.
Now that my partner is no more how can I ‘muskura’?

May your soul have everlasting peace, partner.

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