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Not just a game

Mumbai and cricket are inseparable. From gully tournaments to international matches, Mumbaiites devour cricket with a passion that has no parallel in India. No wonder the city has produced several of the game’s legends.

mumbai Updated: Jul 18, 2011 01:29 IST
Vilas Godbole
Vilas Godbole
Hindustan Times

After the British and the Parsi community introduced the game to the city, cricket became one of Mumbai’s strengths because players, coaches, selectors and administrators demonstrated vision and worked towards realising common goals. Here’s how the vision illuminated various aspects of cricketing life:

Institutions, not individuals
The Constitution of the Mumbai Cricket Association (formed in 1930) puts institutions over individuals. No individual was, or is, allowed to become a member of the Association. It’s the clubs that are members (they can nominate one person to vote at the time of elections). This provided a sound basis for the city’s cricket superstructure.

First ODI tournament
The world’s first limited-overs tournament — the Padmakar Talim Shield — was played in Mumbai in 1947-48. It is still played today. The tournament was started by three youths in memory of their friend who died young, and the MCC has acknowledged its pioneer status (organised one-day cricket in England began in 1961, and in Australia in 1977).

Secret of sound technique
Vijay Merchant, who played on rain-affected pitches in England during his career, felt Mumbai should have a tournament played in the monsoon so that local cricketers get used to wet wickets. So the Kanga League was started in 1948-49. It has helped batsmen sharpen their technique, because rain-affected pitches are hard to bat on. This tournament is the reason Mumbai has produced some of India’s best batsmen, from Manjrekar to Wadekar to Gavaskar to Manjrekar Jr and Sachin Tendulkar.

A secular world
Sandeep Patil’s father, Madhusudan Patil, one of the inspirational figures in Mumbai cricket, refused to attend trials for the Pentangulars because the tournament was played on communal lines. Similarly, two of the biggest clubs, Dadar Union and Shivaji Park Gymkhana, refused to play the Purshottam Shield in the early years because only Hindus were then allowed to participate in it.

Early cricket education
When I played for Dadar Union, a little boy used to keep scores for our club. His name was Sunil Gavaskar. In return, we had to bowl to him during the lunch and tea intervals. The basics of cricket were thus learnt by youngsters in the tent. They took in the atmosphere and began their cricket education early.

The role models
The city had great role models in the two Vijays (Merchant and Manjrekar), Vinoo Mankad and Subhash Gupte in the 1950s and ’60s. When I was among the pupils being coached by Vinoo Mankad at Hindu Gymkhana in 1957-58, Merchant once came over to bat in the nets. He was well past retirement then, but he batted for 40 minutes and was not beaten even once. I later saw Manjrekar at a net session. He, too, was well past retirement, and was batting on a difficult track on which Paddy Shivalkar was turning the ball square. He got no edges. He’d play the hook beautifully and keep the ball down every time.

Jobs for cricketers
Much has been written about how companies began hiring cricketers for the Times Shield, but few know that Patil Sr — a big-hitter, like his son -- was the one who changed the cricketers’ mindset. All big cricketers were then employed by the mills. Patil told them to focus on education and get into banks, insurance and the other emerging service industries. Cricketers achieved social mobility because they heeded his advice.

The game as God
Vijay Manjrekar hated it if anyone touched a bat with the foot, and if he got an edge, he’d abuse himself and, after having come back to the dressing room, clean up his bat. When he died, his bat was placed upon his funeral pyre, in keeping with his wishes.

Brilliant minds
Madhav Mantri, Gavaskar’s maternal uncle, was a shrewd captain who inspired generations of cricketers. He was so good at setting fields that he’d frustrate even someone like Vijay Manjrekar. Manjrekar was fond of playing the glance, and Mantri made it a point to block runs in the fine-leg region. “Madhavrao, why don’t you at least remove fine leg?” Manjrekar would ask him jokingly when the runs dried up.

Coaching for coaches
Mumbai was the first to start a coaching scheme for coaches in 1987-88. I was then MCA secretary and suggested we start the scheme. We said that only those who had played at least in the ‘B’ division could be eligible. This was in order to ensure quality coaching. The BCCI started the scheme 16 years later.

Vilas Godbole, coach of the Mumbai Under-22 team, has been associated with Mumbai cricket for more than 50 years as player, selector and administrator. He is the author of ‘My Innings in Mumbai Cricket’. He spoke to Vaibhav Purandare.

First Published: Jul 18, 2011 01:28 IST