, Devendra Pandey
| Mumbai |
Updated: August 17, 2018 12:45:18 am
VINOD KAMBLI had gotten used to receiving three WhatsApp messages from Ajit Wadekar on a daily basis. Without exception, he says, each would have a comic element, even if at times they were mere “good morning” forwards. Some would end up leading to nostalgia-driven phone calls, lasting over an hour, as the two recalled the “fun times” they had together back when Wadekar was India coach and played indulgent mentor-cum-father figure to Kambli and Sachin Tendulkar.
But then the messages stopped a few days ago. Wadekar had taken ill before eventually passing away on Wednesday.
The car ride to the Wadekar household on Thursday morning to pay their respects was filled with the fondest reminisces for Tendulkar and Kambli. One in particular, Kambli reveals, had the two schoolmates-turned-Indian teammates giggling for old time’s sake.
“It, of course, was about how we used to have meals and drinks on his tab at the hotel, and make him pay for them,” he says. And as he reveals, it wasn’t just the two of them who would make the most of Wadekar’s generosity. “He used to be surrounded by press reporters. And the Wadekar tab was offered to them too. And then he would come and tell us, ‘Achha, the board has to give me extra allowance from now on’,” recalls Kambli, expertly mimicking the former India captain’s voice and distinct style of speaking.
In a way, it sums up the kind of relationship that the two talented Mumbai youngsters shared with the first captain to lead India to overseas series wins. Wadekar already had a “legend” status, in Mumbai circles anyway, by the time he took over as India coach towards the end of 1992.
“Vinod, I and he would always be next to each other on flights. He had this great ability to become a 20-year-old in our company and we could never tell the age-gap really. He would even take us along if he was meeting a friend for a meal,” says Tendulkar. The menu, more often than not, involved a lot of seafood.
Wadekar’s innate sense of humour played a huge role in him bringing Tendulkar and Kambli under his wings. But within the dressing room, Kambli reveals, Wadekar not only had a commanding presence but also a sense of great authority that even senior players, including Kapil Dev and Mohammad Azharuddin, adhered to.
“We were allowed to call him Jitya, like everyone else. But when he spoke, everyone listened, and it was no surprise that so many memorable team and individual performances came during his reign. He would always get the seniors to do the talking during meetings, and we would get our chance too on and off,” he says. Kambli would, of course, put his coach’s “authority” to good use on one occasion by coaxing Wadekar to get all the players to show off their dance moves during a washed-out Test match in Kandy.
“There used to be a lot of security in Sri Lanka those days and we couldn’t leave the hotel. I went to him and said, ‘Sir, we’re getting bored’ and hatched a plan with him to invite the entire team to the discotheque in the hotel and get them to show their moves. And everyone, including Kapil paaji, was made to show a few individual steps in the centre of the room. Who could say no to Wadekar after all,” says Kambli.
On another occasion, Kambli would call each member of the team and in the coach’s voice, ask them to show up for a meeting in Wadekar’s room late in the night. A shocked and half-asleep Wadekar would open his door to find the entire team there and insist he hadn’t called a meeting. The Wadekar manner of speaking, even Sunil Gavaskar insists, was tough not to mimic, especially the way he would say, “arre kay re” at least once a day.
When it came to cricket though, Tendulkar adds, it was always serious business for Wadekar, including bringing in a curfew system. Tendulkar and Kambli would often indulge in various “challenges” during fielding drills with their coach. Kambli talks about the time Wadekar pulled him up after he was dismissed for 224 against England at the Wankhede Stadium, 12 short of Gavaskar’s then India record.
“’Gadhadya, record saathi ghelaas aani out zhaalas na?’ (You went for the record and got out) he said and I responded saying, ‘Arey, (Mike) Gatting took the catch. What can I do?’” says Kambli. Wadekar though would then walk up to the youngster and say, “Sarkaar, you have left Bradman behind,” when Kambli averaged around 110 after his first few Tests.
The only other time he recalls Wadekar, who retired as executive director with State Bank of India, not seeing the funny side was whenever the flamboyant left-hander would jovially ask him for a bank loan. “Arey kaay re, they have become strict these days,” he’d say.
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