At the BCCI organised condolence meeting, cricketers recall their stories with the legend Ajit Wadekar, who passed away earlier this month.
Two weeks after his heartbreaking demise, the cricket fraternity is still recalling one of the chirpiest and ambitious captains of that era—Ajit Wadekar. A few clips of Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar and a few rib-tickling anecdotes by Farokh Engineer would soothe the old man’s soul.
On August 15, the news of his departure from the world came as a shock to everyone. Busy with their own personal commitments, all of them took out some time to reach Wadekar’s condolence meeting on August 29 here.
It was a long walk down various memory lanes. All of them had different stories with Wadekar but all of them had included his ferocious leadership.
Former off-spinner, Milind Rege credited Wadekar for giving him an early chance. “My first match Rest of India vs Bombay then and I and Sunil (Gavaskar) had seen the players from the stands. The who’s who (like) Chandu Borde, Tiger Pautaudi, Hanumant Singh, Abid Ali—all these big players came for batting,” he recalled.
“Ajit gave me the ball and said ‘Milind, don’t look at the batsmen, just look at the wicket and bowl. They might be big but are you less?’,” said Rege who played for about half a decade under Wadekar’s captaincy.
More than a captain, Wadekar played the role of a mentor who would aim at shaping a player holistically instead of playing a match together.
One of Wadekar’s impressive triumph was leading India to a first ever series win against England in 1971. It was a miraculous achievement even then. ‘The internet generation’ as Gavaskar call it, knows how difficult it is in the English conditions looking at Virat Kohli’s side right now.
Gundappa Vishwanath who played a vital role in that win remembers how desperate Wadekar was to win the match.
“Ajit told me that he is not bothered about what I had done earlier and that he did not want to see me in the dressing room till the scoreboard showed the runs that had to be scored for victory. I did not know if it was a joke, as Sunny would say, and I did not know how to take it. He wanted to win the Oval Test badly,” said Vishwanath.
Then there was Farokh Engineer who can light up the dreariest of days. His camaraderie with Wadekar began from school cricket. The latter represented Ruia and the former played for Poddar.
Engineer recollects the banter with Wadekar who was usually positioned in the slips. “I always used to call him ‘Jitya’ (nick name given to Ajit by Vijay Manjrekar). We had great rivarly... starting from matches played between R.A. Podar College and Ruia College and Ajit was the big difference between the two college sides. He was a great slip (fielder). The Mumbai Cricket Association should name a stand, or street after Ajit,” said Engineer.
Tendulkar and Gavaskar had sent video messages about a few instances with Wadekar. Even BCCI CEO Rahul Johri spoke about Wadekar’s leadership.