Ajit Wadekar, who deployed his famous spinners to devastating effect and recorded historic series wins in the West Indies and England in 1971, passed away here on Wednesday. He was 77.
Failing health had restricted his movement and Wadekar was hospitalised in July too. An official statement issued by Jaslok Hospital said: “Mr. Ajit Wadekar was declared dead on arrival at the Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre. He had been critically unwell for some time and was seeking treatment for the same.”'
Milind Rege, who played for many years under Wadekar in the Ranji Trophy, said: “Wadekar was India’s greatest ever captain. He showed the Indian team and Indian cricket how to win a Test series overseas. That’s why he is the best skipper.”
Dramatic happenings at the selection committee meeting to pick the captain for the 1971 tour of the West Indies resulted in him being named skipper ahead of Mansur 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.
He will always be known for the way he marshalled his spin resources, especially the likes of Bishen Singh Bedi, Erapalli Prasanna and S. Venkatraghavan who, between them, captured 48 wickets on the 1971 West Indies tour. It was his tactical move to introduce left-arm spinner Salim Durrani which paved the way for the dismissals of Gary Sobers and Clive Lloyd in the second innings of the Port of Spain Test and eventually an Indian victory.
In the English summer of 1971, Wadekar employed leg-spinner Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and a strong close-in field, led by the sharp Eknath Solkar, astutely as India stunned the hosts for the first time at The Oval.
Wadekar led India to a 2-1 win against England at home in the 1972-73 series, but his confidence took a beating as England thrashed India 3-0 at home in 1974 and heaped further humiliation by skittling out India for 42 in the second innings of the Lord’s Test. This was the last series Wadekar played for India as Pataudi was briefly handed over the captaincy in the home series against the West Indies.
The strokeful southpaw also starred in many victories for Bombay in the Ranji Trophy.
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