Teammates and close friends of the late Dilip Sardesai struggled to control their emotions during his cremation on Tuesday.
Despite heavy rain, the cricket fraternity turned out in large numbers at the Chandanwadi electrical crematorium, where Sardesai’s son Rajdeep performed the last rites.
Among them were former India captains Nari Contractor and Ajit Wadekar, former internationals Sandeep Patil, Bapu Nadkarni, Indrajit Sinh, Suru Nayak, Ajit Pai, Ghulam Parkar, Chandu Patankar and Kenia Jayantilal.
Former Mumbai captain Milind Rege, Indian cricket board’s chief administrative officer Prof Ratnakar Shetty, ex-Board presidents Raj Singh Dungarpur and Purushottam Rungta, Mumbai Cricket Association’s joint secretary Hemant Waingankar and television presenter Harsha Bhogle were also present.
Those in attendance from fields other than sport included the Shiv Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray, former Mumbai sheriff Kiran Shantaram, ex-Mumbai police chiefs Jilio Ribeiro and Ronnie Mendonca and current special IG Javed Ahmed.
“Rajbhai (Raj Singh Dungarpur) and I had visited Dilip in hospital last Tuesday,” Contractor said. “On Thursday I spoke to Nandini (Sardesai’s wife) and everything was fine then.”
Wadekar, who led the Indian team during Sardesai’s purple patch in international cricket, also paid an emotional tribute to Sardesai.
“It has been one long partnership lasting more than 15 years on the cricket field with ‘Sardya’,” Wadekar said. “He used to call me ‘Jitya’. If we won the Test series in 1971 in the West Indies, 90 per cent of the credit goes to him.”
Sardesai was one of the very few former international cricketers from Mumbai who made it a point to watch youngsters on the maidans. And he continued his habit even after suffering from a kidney failure five years ago and being on dialysis for over a year, Sardesai never lost his fighting spirit.
Even the doctor treating him at the Bombay Hospital, Dr Shrirang Bichu, said on Monday night: “He was a fighter and would always tell me: ‘I will soon go back to the field of play’.”
Sardesai was one of those who don’t like to talk about their illness.
In April last year, when the Goa Cricket Association felicitated Sardesai on the sidelines of the India-England one-dayer for being a son of their soil (Sardesai was born in Margao, the venue of the match, and is the only Goan to have played for India), Sardesai had just been discharged from the hospital.
After a usual round of questions on the Indian team, a journalist queried about his health. Sardesai shrugged off the question, saying “I am fit and fine” with a smile.
Sadly, we won’t be able to witness that smile anymore.