Ode to the unsung heroes who serve Indian cricket
Mumbai city news: If Mumbai is still known as the nursery of Indian cricket, it is in no small measure to the contribution of such dedicated individuals who spend hours, days, months and years toiling to develop their wards from scratchmumbai Updated: Jul 13, 2017 23:04 IST
The kerfuffle between Anil Kumble and Virat Kohli that has hogged headlines across the cricket world in the past few days has turned my attention to people like Ramakant Achrekar and his ilk.
Achrekar’s name resonates the most in modern Indian cricket because he has coached and mentored an impressive number of cricketers (in the past three decades or so) who went on to play, or were very close to being picked for India.
His most famous pupil Sachin Tendulkar strode across the cricketing world like a colossus for almost a quarter century, turning the spotlight not just on himself and Indian cricket, but also his coach.
Others like Vinod Kambli burnt brightly too fast (alas), Praveen Amre made the cut but couldn’t hold on to his place, and some like Amol Muzumdar were unlucky of being in an era when batting spots were occupied by formidable names like Dravid, Ganguly and Laxman.
But Achrekar is just one among countless coaches who dot the maidans – have done so for decades – and produced an extraordinary number of renowned cricketers that this city has produced.
Apart from Achrekar, there have been several others who earned renown for their skills and commitment in developing young talent: Vasant Amladi, Anna Vaidya, V S Patil, Vasu Paranjape from the 1960s, 70s and 80s, come readily to mind.
On any given day, you can spot these coaches on Azad, Cross, Oval Maidans in Sobo, not forgetting Shivaji Park in mid-town Mumbai which has unarguably been the epicentre of the city’s cricketing prowess, and increasingly the suburbs too.
If Bombay (later Mumbai) is still known as the nursery of Indian cricket, it is in no small measure to the contribution of such dedicated individuals who spend hours, days, months and years toiling to develop their wards from scratch.
Most of them are not cricketers of great repute. Of those mentioned above, none played for India; not even a large number of first class games. Even Achrekar played only one.
And this is not restricted to Mumbai. Desh Prem Azad, who coached Kapil Dev, played only 19 first-class matches. Keki Tarapore (not to be confused with another of the same name who played one Test for India), who coached Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble, played one.
Virat Kohli’s coach Raj Kumar Sharma played just nine first-class games, and was primarily an off-spin bowler! He has gone on to produce one of the finest batsmen in the country.
Barring Achrekar (for obvious reasons), and now to some extent Sharma, most don’t get celebrity status or attention. They live in relative anonymity, but soldier on nonetheless, uncaring about rewards that may or may not come their way.
But unsung though they are, they are zealots, filled with a deep and great sense of purpose in identifying and nurturing young, even nascent talent with all the energy and expertise at their command.
Those that show special ability get special attention of course: not just in moulding cricketing technique but also squaring up to life challenges. In their success lies the gratification for the coach.
Almost every big ticket player I can think of from the past four-five decades traces his growth back to that one person from his formative years who made him worthwhile to play at the highest level. Happily most acknowledge this.
Tendulkar, for instance, has had Achrekar by his side on almost every big occasion when he was feted. Dravid has always given credit to Tarapore for what he became and Kohli, I understand, still calls Sharma after every match.
The real coach in cricket, in my opinion, is different from the popularly perceived one. At the highest level of the sport, what is fundamentally needed is someone who supplements/complements the player to what he already is.
True, in the modern game, this role is not insignificant. But such entity is essentially a facilitator who can help in getting optimum performance, for those playing at the international level are conceivably already the best players in the country.
So, at the time of this raging controversy regarding Kumble and Kohli, this is my ode is to the silent heroes who serve Indian cricket brilliantly. They are the ones who produce stars. And sometimes star wars break out between current players or in a different avatar.
It can’t not be disheartening for these coaches to see this. But the show must go on.
There’s the next batch of youngsters to groom.