Former Indian Cricket captain Ajit Wadekar, who led India to their first overseas Test wins in England and the West Indies, passed away on August 15 after a prolonged illness. He was 77. Wadekar is survived by his wife Rekha, two sons and a daughter. Ajit Wadekar will be remembered for his rich contribution to Indian Cricket. A great batsman and a wonderful captain, he led our team to some of the most memorable victories in our cricketing history. He was also respected as an effective cricket administrator.
Wadekar’s first-class debut was in 1958 but he could make it to the India team only in 1966 and went on to earn the reputation of being an aggressive number three batsman. However, he had just one Test hundred in his record — a 143-run effort in Wellington — which came in the 1968 tour of New Zealand. Dramatic happenings at the selection committee meeting to pick the captain for the 1971 tour of the West Indies resulted in him being named the skipper ahead of Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi. One of the five selectors did not turn up and the chairman of the then selection committee, Vijay Merchant, who had picked young players like Gundappa Viswanath and Sunil Gavaskar, used his casting vote to choose Wadekar.
The aggressive batsman was a trailblazer in Indian Cricket despite a mere 37 Test appearances, leading India to triumphs in England and the West Indies in 1971. Wadekar scored 2,113 runs in his Test career, including one hundred, and was also the country’s first ODI captain. He appeared in just two matches, though. India lost both those ODIs against England, which prompted Wadekar to retire from International Cricket in 1974. The Mumbaikar went on to serve as India’s manager in the ’90s during Mohammed Azharuddin’s captaincy. In his tenure as manager, India had finished semifinalists at the 1996 World Cup.
Ajit Wadekar was a great thinker and very positive in his approach as a player and captain. Ajit Wadekar was at his wit’s end, when India played the West Indies at Sabina Park in Feb 1971. After the first day was washed out India, thanks mainly to Sardesai’s double-hundred, amassed 387, and then the Indian spinners skittled the West Indies for 217, a deficit of 170. In a match of four days, the follow-on rule implies for a leeway of more than 150 runs. Ajit Wadekar forced West Indies to follow on and captain Gary Sobers was taken aback by the decision of Indian captain. Somehow, West Indies avoided the ignominy of an innings defeat.
He set an excellent example in discipline and teamwork and by persuasion and sociable nature was able to extract full co-operation and the best effort from them. He led the team from the front and was able to spot the talent very much. He made S. Venkatraghavan as his vice-captain for the tour of West Indies and England and the move paid rich dividends. Venkatraghavan took 35 wickets in a winning cause, 22 in West Indies and 13 in England and that made his task easy in achieving the Golden year for the Indian Cricket in the year 1971. Both Gavaskar and Dilip Sardesai were in their peak form during these tours and Eknath Solkar provided the best support in the middle order and as a close-in fielder.
He was never nervous or embarrassed by the crisis, wrote Vijay Merchant in his foreword to Ajit Wadekar’s autobiography: My Cricketing Years. As an ardent fan of Cricket, I had the opportunity of going through the pages of this book and found how true he is to his wife Rekha and praising her for her patience and blaming his own wavering mind of activities during overseas tours. He was a team man and made winning moves during his short but illustrious career.
As a regular in Chennai’s Chepauk Stadium, I saw Ajit Wadekar fiercely hooking West Indies fast bowlers and it was a treat to watch him play in full flow against a fearsome pace attack. He was a great thinker and served the State Bank of India in the capacity of Regional and General Manager during his long and illustrious career. He was a good slip fielder and Indian team was lucky to have Ajit, Solkar, Abid Ali, Venkatraghavan to back the world-class spin bowlers to the hilt and that changed the complexion of the game in India’s favour. Wadekar was confidence personified in his approach and he was a true leader. Instead of sticking around for a long time, he quit the game. His death is a great loss to Mumbai Cricket in general and Indian Cricket in particular. RIP Ajit Wadekar.
(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)