As the flags got lowered at sunset on Independence Day, a sense of desolation took over the Indian cricketing fraternity. Former Indian captain and yesteryear great Ajit Wadekar passed away at the age of 77. The architect behind India’s first ever overseas victories in England and West Indies. A man who made us believe in true sense that we had it in ourselves to win outside India.
In an Australian team that boasted of Sir Don Bradman, Wadekar used to idolize Stan McCabe for his batting in the middle order. Whenever Bradman failed, it was another right handed batsman who delivered and took his team home. The Indian cricketer never shied away in calling his Ranji debut a big flop. However, later on he went on to smash more than 15000 runs in first class cricket is something he never boasted about.
Not the greatest but quite influential
His international records might suggest that he was an ordinary batsman. However, what statistics wouldn’t portray was the impact he created as a batsman in dire situations. Hailing from Bombay and having played for the Ranji team considered as invincible, no doubt he was a strong character with a staunch resilience. His biggest footprint was witnessed by the world in India’s first ever overseas victory in New Zealand.
Out of the three games that India won, Wadekar stood out with spectacular performances in two of them. In the first Test at Dunedin, the No.3 batsman top scored for India in both the innings with scores of 80 and 71. However, it was in Wellington where the then 26 year old stood apart with a magnificent 143 runs. No other Indian batsman managed to cross 50 as well. Not taking away any credit from the spinners in the series, Wadekar had an imminent role in India’s maiden series win overseas.
‘I was out shopping with my wife when I learnt about it’
The biggest turning point of his career was when Wadekar was handed over the captaincy. To take over the reigns from Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi wasn’t an easy responsibility on his shoulders. Yet there was a man who backed his instincts. In the tour to West Indies in 1971, a pace attack comprising of Sobers and Lance Gibbs, he backed Dilip Sardesai in the team. A batsman who eventually went on to post 642 runs in the series at an average of 80.25.
A unique incident took place in the very first Test match at Kingston. Wadekar had the audacity to ask Windies captain Gary Sobers to follow on, which was a first by an Indian cricket team against the Caribbeans. Since the lead wasn’t more than 200, Gary asked him to check out with the umpires. However, since the match was reduced to a four day affair, even a lead above 150 was enough to enforce a follow on. While the match was drawn, India had put up a bold statement that they were here to win.
He eventually led India to a 1-0 victory over the Caribbean giants in a five match series. In the same year, he achieved glory in England as well. After scoring an 85 in a drawn Test match affair at Lord’s, he top scored with a crucial 45 in the fourth innings at Kennington Oval. India went on to script their highest successful run chase in England, a record that still remains. India won their first ever series in England. Wadekar ended up inbibing confidence in the team that we could do better outside home for generations to follow.
Post captaincy and service to Indian cricket
Years later, after he retired following a series loss against England in 1974, Wadekar returned as a manager of the Indian cricket team. Thus, he wasn’t just a great player but also a fantastic coach and a wise selector later on. Many might be unaware but he also used to be a force to reckon with in slip fielding during his playing days. The euphoria he created in Indian cricket was un-matchable then.
As he left his heavenly abode, we pay our tribute to the legendary figure. An Arjuna Award and Padma Shri recipient, Wadekar will be solely remembered for taking Indian cricket to great heights. Teaching the team that winning was more important than scoring runs or taking wickets. All this at a time, when there weren’t higher stakes and money in cricket. An underrated cricketer of his generation, but as his words go, “At least I’m remembered for something..”
Thank You Sir, Rest in Peace!!