Ajit Wadekar, a man who demonstrated immense leadership qualities and popularly known as the legend-maker, also an integral part of the Afternoon Voice as a Guest Editor, took his last breathe on Wednesday late night at the age of 77 due to prolonged illness.
The veteran Indian cricket skipper who had made his mark in the Indian Cricket since 1971 as under his captaincy the team saw its first successive maiden Test series in England and West Indies. During the same era, the Legendary Sunil Gavaskar made his debut. In 90s, Wadekar served as the Manager of team India, back then he mentored today’s greatest batsmen Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli. He later went on to become the chairman of selectors as well. Wadekar is the only cricketer apart from Lala Amarnath and Chandu Borde to have served as captain, manager, and selector in the Indian Cricket.
Former India player Pravin Amre expressed, “I will never forget an incident with Ajit Wadekar where he gave me a test cap in the dressing room in 1992, when he was the coach of the Indian team. It was remarkable the way he backed me on the field and off the field, he was also a role model for not only cricketers but everyone. Apart from being a great captain and cricketer, he was also a great administrator. His way of mentoring has helped me immensely in my cricket career. He has also contributed to social work as he encouraged and mentored handicapped persons as well to play cricket.”
This street-smart player was recognised for his contribution in the cricket; he was honoured with the Arjuna Award, instituted by the Government of India to recognise sporting talents. In 1972, he received the Padmashri, India’s fourth highest civilian honour. Apart from that other awards incorporated in his achievements chronicle are – CK Nayudu Lifetime achievement award, Sportsperson of the Year, and the Castrol Lifetime Achievement award.
Wadekar, the founder president of the All India Cricket Association for the Physically Challenged, early this year, had come to pass as a special Guest Editor Column that featured prominent personalities from various fraternity. Ajit Wadekar in an interaction session with the team of Afternoon Voice ideated his perception on present-day Cricket and also the challenges in training the disabled players.
Secretary of All India Cricket Association for the physically challenged Vinayak Dhotre JL asserted, “From the past 30 years, he was working for handicapped cricket association. Our institution had participated in the various International tournament, in 2015 our team played against Bangladesh and England. Ajit Wadekar used to organise tournaments and also sponsor them and we got recognition because of him. He was a down to earth person always ready to help the organisation and inspire all students and cricketers. His health was deteriorating for one month. He was honoured with Mother Teresa Award for his contribution for handicapped persons.”
These are amongst the few questions from the interview where he gave astounding replies:
You’re supporting the All India Cricket Association for the Physically Challenged. What do you feel the main challenge to train the differently abled players?
Most of the physically challenged players belong to the lower financial strata of the society. Insufficient funds are what makes difficult for them to get good training. There is a need to create awareness among people. They require special attention. But, I expect a better near future. They require special attention.
How do you look at the Real Cricket of your time Vs Rich Cricket of these days? What about the growing corruption in Cricket?
We used to play cricket as a hobby. Representing club, state and at utmost the country was really a big learning experience for all of us. Competitiveness is needed for better performance. Mumbaikars are born with a bat and a ball. Cricket is in Bombay’s blood.
Corruption in IPL is because of the involvement of franchisee. It’s the franchisee who wants to fetch money from the market. But all these corruption doesn’t matter to the overall sports — Cricket. Performance matters. You score 100, you’ll get selected. If you can’t perform, you’ll not be a part of the team.
Which was the best phase for Indian cricket in your opinion? Was it Kapil Dev, Sourav Ganguly, MS Dhoni or Virat Kohli’s captaincy?
I think one of the best time was when I captained the team. Because that’s the first time India registered its first overseas Test Series win and following victories in 1971 against West Indies and England. India played its first ODI in 1974 too. At present, all-time best captain of Indian team is Mahendra Singh Dhoni. India has a rich cultural diversity; as a captain it’s a commendable quality to keep the boys together and he has successfully managed it. He is always beside the team in crisis and that’s the best quality he offers. His concentration and energy on the field is tremendous and he has proved himself the best both as a batsman and a wicket keeper.
We have both men’s and women’s Cricket team. But what according to you is the reason that women’s cricket team lacks required importance and space like the former?
The Indian Women’s Cricket Team is performing really well. I feel a little more improvement will help them get the focus even more.
Who in your opinion can break Sachin Tendulkar’s record from Indian team if at all it happens in future?
I feel breaking Sachin’s record is possible by both Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane, they are very dedicated players of the team with proper energy and defence.
Today’s cricketers are getting money, fame and glamour. Do you regret not being a player of this era?
Except money we got everything in our era. But in our time, our expectations were not much. We really enjoyed playing the game as a hobby and not for any commercial purpose. Cricketers now play the game as a profession, they want to earn money and I feel there’s nothing wrong with that.
The maverick cricketer will long be remembered for instilling pride and self-belief in the Indian team. With him, Indian Cricket lost a pioneer. One used to watch the game just to see him walk through the centre, that was the charisma which had brought joy to the millions in an era when India didn’t have much to celebrate and for that we should forever be grateful. He will be missed!
A state funeral with 21-gun salute to honour the former skipper will be held on Friday afternoon at 12 pm in Dadar. Ajit Wadekar is survived by his wife Rekha, two sons, and a daughter.