Mumbai: ‘Sunil, sorry, he is no more’. Those devastating words conveyed to me that ‘my captain’ Ajit Wadekar had passed away. Just a little while earlier, I was trying to help put him in the car to rush him to the hospital since the ambulance was going to take another 15 minutes to arrive and even then it looked like it was a hopeless battle.
Ajit Wadekar was my captain when I made my debut for Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy and he was my skipper when I got my India cap. So for me he is always a ‘captain’.
‘He was unkindly called a lucky captain’
He was so prolific in local and Ranji Trophy cricket that it was a surprise to many that he made his India debut as late as 1966 against Garry Sobers’ West Indies team. Five years later it was against Garry Sobers’ team that he led India for the first time and went on to win the series, beating West Indies for the first time.
A couple of months after that he led India to another historic win when India beat England in England for the first time.
He was unkindly called a lucky captain by those who couldn’t stomach the fact that he had replaced the charismatic MAK Pataudi as the skipper. Even after these twin wins and another in India a year later neither Vijay Merchant nor Wadekar got the credit they deserved for bringing India those hat-trick of wins.
Ajit retired from Tests suddenly when he was left out of the West Zone team for the Duleep Trophy by a committee led by Polly Umrigar and thereafter concentrated on his banking career and also cricket administration with the MCA.
‘I am the only one on top of Sunny’
He was also a successful manager/coach of the Indian team in the early ’90s. When some of us sportspersons requested the Maharashtra Government for a plot of land to build an apartment block, it was Ajit who took the lead and there was Umrigar also in the society formed showing that he harboured no hard feelings towards his senior.
Being the promoter, he got the top floor of the building when it was built and since I was on the floor immediately below him he used to always joke, ‘I am the only one on top of Sunny’. There’s hardly been a day when I haven’t mimicked his ‘arre kay re’ at least once and not just me but even Sachin Tendulkar told me that he too says the same at least once a day. My captain is no more but he will always be with me when I say, ‘ arre kay re’. RIP, Captain.
(Story by Sunil Gavaskar; with inputs from PTI)