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'Heroes are nothing without their fans'



 Greg Chappell tore his autograph book once and another time, Rusi Surti threw his autograph book away. But it was probably when his daughter spoilt his autograph book many years later, that former Indian cricketer Karsan Ghavri was most disappointed.

During a benefit match in Sharjah over 25 years ago, Ghavri--who played in the 1975 and 1979 World Cups--was having breakfast at a Dubai hotel. Given that his idol, West Indian legend Sir Garfield Sobers, was the chief guest at the match, Ghavri had carried his autograph book--which contained the signatures of everyone from Sir Don Bradman to David Miller.

The book was lying open on the breakfast table when Ghavri's youngest daughter, who was three years old, dipped teabags into the teacup and then started stirring them with her fingers vigorously. Within seconds, the entire book was drenched. And just like that, all the cricket autographs that Ghavri had so painstakingly collected over several years, vanished.

"I was very angry," recalls the former cricketer who has never refused a single autograph in his lifetime. In an interview, he tells us why.

We believe you were refused an autograph? 

In 1966-67, when I was around 14 or 15 years old and hadn't even appeared in Ranji Trophy matches yet, I ran upto Rusi Surti for an autograph. My book was thrown away. Everyone has their heroes and as a young kid in Bhavnagar, I looked up to him as he was a star player for India. As a star all-rounder, he was called the Garfield Sobers of India. Like me, he was a left-hander. I would read about him and watch him. But maybe he was angry about something that day.

Were you disappointed?

Of course. Heroes are people who win the hearts of people. People like Amitabh Bachchan and Dilip Kumar and other star cricketers are what they are because of their legion of fans. After the Rusi Surti episode, I fell in love with Sir Garfield Sobers. Those days, there were no videos. So, we would go to Films Division to watch the left hander's shots even if it was two seconds long. He is still my biggest hero. I consider him a god of cricket.
I happened to meet him in Sydney when he was the biggest star of the game. I was hesitant to approach him and asked my vice captain Sunil Gavaskar if I could take an autograph when he was in our dressing room. Gavaskar encouraged me to approach him and when I did, he welcomed my request. Sir Garfield Sobers signed the autograph and I even took picture with him which still takes up a prominent space on my wall.

So, you make it a point never to refuse autographs?

Absolutely. I think the Surti episode etched that into my psyche. In my entire career, I have never ever refused to sign an autograph.  I remember I was in England a few years ago when the Indian cricket team was playing Leicestershire. My friends wanted autographs of some of the players. I went back to the hotel, called Ravindra Jadeja on the hotel phone and told him there are some great fans waiting for him. After everything was done, Ravichandran Ashwin came in but when the fans shouted "Ashwin, Ashwin," he refused to give them autographs and started walking off. Just as he was entering the lift, I asked someone to call him back: "Tell him, former Indian player Karsan Ghavri wants to talk to you." He came to meet me and I advised him saying it's not right to refuse autographs. Don't break their hearts, I told him. Fans wait for hours for players. Surely, they can spare a minute. Ashwin realised (his mistake) and, later, signed the autographs.

What makes an autograph superior to a photograph?

These relics of a bygone era such as autographs are definitely very important. And if you have a picture to go with it, that's cherry on the cake.

How do you sign autographs?

Not the same way as I sign the cheque book. (laughs)  If there are 50 to 60 people, you simply sign but if there are five or six, you use simple phrases like 'Best wishes', 'lots of love', 'warm regards'.

Do people still send you fan mail?

I have been retired for more than 40 years now but few people still send postal covers and old pictures from places like Chandigarh and Brisbane. I do sign and send them back.

Do you think the culture of autograph seeking is dying?

Now it has reduced a great deal. This is because everything is scrutinized. Players are not accessible to fans as they used to be --be it at stadiums or hotels, restaurants or shopping malls.

Your fondest memory of signing autographs?

In 1978 or 1979, when Kapil Dev made his debut as a fast bowler in Pakistan, we were in our dressing room in Karachi after having lost a match. Right next to our dressing room, was the women's section, a separate section created for women viewers. In those days, Pakistan was full of such rules and regulations. Hundreds of young girls from the women's section would enter the dressing room with pieces of paper for our autographs. One of the girls got friendly with me and told me over coffee at the hotel later that Imran Khan happened to see the girls taking autographs and stopped to ask: "Aap yeh hindustani khiladiyon ka autograph kyun le rahe ho?"

Were you ever concerned about the fact that your autographs would be sold?

My autograph won't even fetch a rupee. Autographs of Sir Don Bradman and Brian Lara, would fetch millions. I am a small fry.


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