‘Enjoy cricket, it shouldn’t feel like a job’
For the former India captain, school cricket and its players have always been at the forefront. It remained so on Wednesday when, as the chief guest of the event, he left the audience comprising wide-eyed kids mesmerised and inspired by his tales and words of wisdom
Mumbai: Dilip Vengsarkar began his speech at the Hindustan Times-MSSA Best School Cricketers Awards 2023 by asking a few players seated at the back of the indoor hall to occupy the front rows.
“This is their felicitation, after all,” he said.
For the former India captain, school cricket and its players have always been at the forefront. It remained so on Wednesday when, as the chief guest of the event, he left the audience comprising wide-eyed kids mesmerised and inspired by his tales and words of wisdom.
Listening to him were the top performers of last season’s U-16 Harris Shield, U-14 Giles Shield and the Late Manoramabai Apte Trophy U-16 tournament for girls — all inter-school events organised by the Mumbai School Sports Association (MSSA) that have provided a supply chain of talent to Mumbai and even Indian cricket over the years. The 2023 Hindustan Times-MSSA Best School Cricketers Awards felicitated the 14 best players of Harris Shield and Giles Shield each and best performers among the girls. Also present on the occasion were Mumbai Cricket Association’s (MCA) U-16 boys’ chairman of selectors Deepak Jadhav and senior men’s team selector Sanjay Patil.
“It’s good to see young talent here,” Vengsarkar said.
The assembly of the cream of Mumbai’s school cricket talent took Vengsarkar down memory lane, to when he played his first Giles Shield match at the age of 12 at Cross Maidan. “I went in to bat at No. 10 and scored 10. I still remember how I scored those 10 runs. These are excellent memories to have,” he said.
“It’s very important to give importance to school cricket. It acts as a great motivating factor, because these are the players who will play for Mumbai, for India and in the IPL as well.”
Cricket has now evolved into a three-format game, with the Indian Premier League (IPL) growing into the world’s top T20 league that every budding player wants to be a part of.
The former top-order batter, who scored 6,868 runs in 116 Test matches for India with 17 centuries, said while being a multi-format player helps, the value of Test cricket should remain at the peak.
“It’s important to play Test match cricket, because that tests the skills and mental toughness of every cricketer. Everyone looks at the IPL, but you are rated and remembered only for your performances in Test cricket. If you are good at the Test level, you can play any format of the game. But if you’re a good T20 player, it doesn’t mean you can play well at the Test level. It has happened with so many cricketers,” he said.
Stressing the need to be a match-winner for the team — “because every selector looks for match-winners” — the former chief of national selectors said passion, hard work, discipline and self-belief form the key ingredients for the recipe of a successful cricketer. “You have to keep improving. You can’t afford to get stagnated in cricket.
“Also, don’t look for shortcuts, because we always tend to do that. Stuff like which selector is from what club. It is important to have self-belief — that I can play for any club and still play for Mumbai and India,” he said.
Loyalty is the other key component, said the legendary cricketer who turned up to play for Mumbai year after year and for the same club (Dadar Union) and office team (Tata Sports Club) for over two decades. “Loyalty for your school, college, club. Your club gives you an opportunity and platform at a young age. One should not forget it, and should stick to it,” he said.
Giving credit to the MSSA for keeping the rich tradition of school cricket in the city alive, Vengsarkar however lamented the decline of inter-collegiate cricket in recent times. “I think it’s really a shame. Inter-collegiate cricket was very important in our times. Effort should be made to revive it,” he said.
Also part of the audience were some parents of the teens. The role of parents in a rising cricketer’s journey is equally critical, felt Vengsarkar. “I can only tell them to not put pressure on the players,” he said. “Let them enjoy cricket. That enjoyment has to remain. It shouldn’t feel like a job or a routine.”
And so Vengsarkar signed off wishing each of the players the best in their promising careers. “I hope you all play for Mumbai very soon,” he said, adding, “And for India too.”