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When Ajit Wadekar opened my first bank account

The serene smile evidently masked a cold-bloodedness on the field against the English rivals, as Wadekar gently persuaded his team to heights few imagined was possible in the early 1970s.

cricket Updated: Aug 16, 2018 16:00 IST
ajit wadekar,sachin tendulkar,india
21st August 1971: Left handed Indian cricketer Ajit Laxman Wadekar batting in India's first innings during the third test at the Oval. The wicket keeper is Alan Knott. (Getty Images)

India beating England in England sent India into a tizzy in 1971, and soon after the team returned home to an ecstatic welcome, captain Ajit Wadekar, who worked for the State Bank of India, travelled to Panaji, Goa.

Just days earlier, I, like thousands at the time, was riveted to the crackling radio, listening to the commentary that brought alive the magic of India’s win in the third test at the Oval. A generation tried to emulate B S Chandrashekhar, who took 6 for 38, and won India the series.

In the euphoria that lasted a long time, Wadekar arrived in Panaji. Word went round that he would be at the main branch of the State Bank of India near the Betim ferry terminal. School teachers gave children time off to go to the branch to open bank accounts.

I was in Lyceum, the Portuguese-era school in Altinho (today it houses the Goa bench of the Bombay high court). The significance of India’s first ever series win in England was not entirely clear at the time, but many of us stood in line to meet the great man, clutching Rs 5 in hand.

ALSO READ: Top 5 moments from career of Ajit Wadekar, the leader who taught India to win overseas

Wadekar sat at a desk as one by one school children approached him with the money. He asked me my name, wrote it on a fresh pass book, signed it at the bottom of the first page, and handed it to me with a smile.

He also gave me a ballpoint pen shaped as a cricket bat, with his signature printed across its blade. The ink ran out after some days, but it remained a prized possession for a long time. Who had the bat-pen and who didn’t was a matter of prestige.

No words were exchanged, but my abiding memory of the brief encounter is of his serene smile. It was a smile that reflected quiet joy of leading India to its first series win in England since its first Test in England in June 1932.

The serene smile evidently masked a cold-bloodedness on the field against the English rivals, as Wadekar gently persuaded his team to heights few imagined was possible in the early 1970s, when complexes related to colonial memory were still entrenched.

Wadekar perhaps had that same serene smile as he passed away on Wednesday. Thank you, captain, for opening my first bank account and the many memories of passionate cricket, when the magic of the game was yet to be trapped in commerce and compromise on the field.

First Published: Aug 16, 2018 15:40 IST