On the 2005-06 tour to Pakistan, President Pervez Musharraf didn't address M Baladitya as the India cricket manager. He said, “Hello, Wing Commander, I hope you are being looked after well here.”
Baladitya’s seniors in the Indian Air Force might have been apprehensive of their officer travelling to the hostile country (it is common knowledge that Indians are tailed by Pakistan's ISI), but the manager endeared himself to the nation.
Such is Air Commodore Baladitya’s persona that he develops a strong bond with anyone he interacts with. During his time with the national team — from 2005 to 2006 — he made a lot of friends in the India team and that bond has stood the test of time.
Baladitya has managed a ‘coup of sorts’ by roping in two of the biggest names in Indian cricket, Sachin Tendulkar and MS Dhoni, who are now part of the armed forces. While Tendulkar is group captain in the IAF, Dhoni is a lieutenant colonel in the Army — both honorary posts.
“When I discussed the idea with Tendulkar, he was very excited…getting the clearance for him was not a problem,” he told HT before the inaugural IPL match at Chennai on Wednesday.
“Our next plan is to take Tendulkar on a sortie in a Sukhoi-30,” said Baladitya, the Services Sports Control Board secretary.
Up in the air
“The clearances have come and we are just looking at Tendulkar’s availability. Most probably, it should happen this year and Pune should be the likely venue,” said Baladitya.
While fighter pilots can perform mind-numbing stunts, Tendulkar will not be put through such 'rigorous regimen'. “We won't try any risky stunts with Sachin, he’s too precious,” he assured.
Dhoni’s fascination for the armed forces is well known. Friends say that being constantly under pressure, the skipper draws inspiration for the army personnel’s tough life.
“He’s always keen to know about the tough life of the soldiers. He's expressed the desire to do time at the border. His busy schedule is an issue but we are exploring the possibility.”
Baladitya also wants them to help the Services team in some way.
“We have a good, young team. The only thing lacking is an inspirational cricketer. Dhoni is very busy or I’d have requested him to play a few games for us. I have checked, officially he qualifies to play.”
“My dream is to see the duo play a ceremonial match for the Services.”