Vijay Amritraj, 6ft 4 in, and Sunil Gavaskar, 5ft 5 in, could be in a joke together, or a Walter Matthau-Jack Lemmon type of comedy. Such is their camaraderie. It was evident in Amritraj’s anecdotes and one-liners while hosting a sports awards ceremony in Mumbai recently.
“Let me talk now, Sunil, it’s my turn,” Amritraj, the tennis stalwart of the ’70s and ’80s who won 16 singles titles, said to Gavaskar as he took the mic. Not many have the authority to tell cricket’s Neil Armstrong — the first to get 10,000 Test runs and 30 centuries — to be quiet. Amritraj can get away with it occasionally. They are the same vintage. Gavaskar, 70, is four years older. He likes tennis and Amritraj follows cricket. Both have acted in movies and like a good time.
On the mic, Amritraj mixed subtle assertion of his credentials with droll self-deprecation. When he’d return home after playing around the world, he said, “My grandmother used to ask me: ‘Why do you have to go so far to lose?’” Another question he would get asked by people was, “Ok, you play tennis. But what do you do for a living? It was only after I won my first tournament that it stopped.” Gavaskar, seated in the front rows with Yuvraj Singh and Sourav Ganguly, seemed to enjoy Amritraj’s asides. When called on stage to present an award, the two men hugged.
Amritraj said that Gavaskar’s knowledge of tennis was better than his grasp of cricket, but that his prediction of the 2019 World Cup cricket winner was more accurate than Gavaskar’s prediction of last year’s Wimbledon champion. “He picked Stefanos Tsitsipas, who lost in the first round. I picked India and they reached the semi-finals,” Amritraj said.
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