Re­mem­ber­ing a Doyen of In­dian Cricket

The Economic Times - - Sports - Bo­ria Ma­jum­dar

Septem­ber 7, 2013. I was host­ing a panel dis­cus­sion with a num­ber of for­mer crick­eters—Bishen Bedi, Ajit Wadekar, Erap­palli Prasanna and Ang­shu­man Gaek­wad at the hal­lowed CK Nayudu Hall of the Cricket Club of In­dia. In the front row was Mad­hav Mantri, who passed away last Fri­day, then In­dia’s old­est liv­ing Test player. The con­ver­sa­tion veered to­wards Aus­tralia’s visit to In­dia in 1945-46 un­der Lind­say Has­sett. As Has­sett’s name was men­tioned, I could see a smile on Mantri’s face. It was he who cap­tained the In­di­ans against that Aus­tralian side. Here was some­one who had cap­tained In­dia two years be­fore par­ti­tion and two years be­fore the na­tion had won in­de­pen­dence from Bri­tish rule. He, of course, re­mem­bered ev­ery de­tail of that tour. My first thought was the BCCI should in­ter­view him for it to be archived for all fu­ture gen- er­a­tions of cricket fans and an­a­lysts. Mantri, a distin­guished crick­eter in the 1940s and 1950s, is bet­ter known to­day as Sunil Gavaskar’s ma­ter­nal un­cle. He is said to have in­spired Gavaskar to aim for the In­dian cap. Not with­out rea­son did Gavaskar of­fer him a glow­ing trib­ute. “I thought he was in­de­struc­tible and this day would never come. He was the last of the dis­ci­plinar­i­ans… When I asked for his cap and blazer, he re­fused and said you have to earn your In­dia cap. That’s why when I went on to play for In­dia and I got the cap and blazer in West Indies, I didn’t play with the cap when I was play­ing tour games. I only wore it when I played a Test match for In­dia.”

The last of the dis­ci­plinar­i­ans is an apt de­scrip­tion. It was Mantri who taught Gavaskar the value of a wicket. “When I got out for 290 in col­lege cricket, I went and told him we had a 400 part­ner­ship. He asked me what score was the other bats­men at? I an­swered he was not out on 300. He also asked me how I got out. I told him I got out play­ing a lofted shot. He ad­vised me to never give my wicket away. Let the bowler earn the wicket. It stayed with me.” If the Gavaskar con­nec­tion is known, the Ten­dulkar one is hardly talked about. Very few re­mem­ber that Mantri was the man­ager of the In­dian team dur­ing Sachin Ten­dulkar’s first tour to Eng­land in 1990. Sachin was just 17 at the time and had just about cut his teeth in in­ter­na­tional cricket hav­ing toured Pak­istan and New Zealand. In fact, when Ten­dulkar got his first Test hun­dred at Old Traf­ford, it was Mantri who in­formed him of the need to go and face the me­dia at the end of the Test match. A dis­tinctly un­com­fort­able Ten­dulkar asked if he could skip it and was told that fac­ing the press af­ter scor­ing a century was part of con­ven­tion. Mantri even­tu­ally ended ac­com­pa­ny­ing the young Sachin. Mantri had in­cred­i­ble sto­ries to tell about In­dia’s 1952 tour to Eng­land. Why did the In­di­ans floun­der against the pace of Fred True­man? How was Vi­jay Hazare as a bats­man and cap­tain? What were the prob­lems plagu­ing In­dian cricket then? Mad­hav Mantri was some­one who had seen In­dian cricket evolve and ma­ture. He was some­one who was part of the process as player, ad­min­is­tra­tor and man­ager. My sin­gu­lar dis­ap­point­ment is that we have not recorded Mantri and his sto­ries. It could have made for a fas­ci­nat­ing his­tor­i­cal ac­count in the years to come. As we mourn Mantri, it is also time for us to cel­e­brate the jour­ney of In­dian cricket, one that Mantri was part of. From a time when we were no more than a foot­note in global cricket to be­ing the sport’s nerve-cen­tre— Mantri had seen it all.

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