Indian cricket’s trophy custodian on his swansong

After a career spanning over a humongous 48 years, ‘India’s trophy keeper’ Sitaram Tambe, who is also the longest-serving employee of the BCCI, has decided to call it a day.

Sitaram Tambe poses with the Ranji Trophy winners and runner-up trophy at Indore's Holkar Stadium on Sunday.   -  R. V. Moorthy

The name Sitaram Tambe may not sound too familiar to the world. After all, he is not a celebrity, nor does he hold a fancy designation. But for the last forty-eight years, the soft-spoken gentleman from Mumbai, has handled perhaps one of the riskiest profiles of Indian cricket — protecting and taking care of the trophies.

Those who have covered Indian cricket over the years would have seen Tambe sitting in a corner of the ground, keeping a watchful eye on the trophies. Be it an international event or a Ranji Trophy final, Tambe would travel all across with the trophies and that too, by train.

Often termed as ‘India’s trophy keeper’, Tambe also happens to the longest-serving employee of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). When he joined the association in 1968, the Board was not the richest in the world, neither did it have a swanky office.

“It would then operate from a small space inside the Cricket Club of India at the Brabourne Stadium. That time, we did not even think that someday, we will have a Cricket House,” Tambe tells Sportstar, sitting at the members block at the Holkar Stadium on Sunday.

He is in Indore with the Ranji Trophy, and this, coincidentally, is his last assignment as a trophy keeper. In the first week of January, Tambe will officially retire from his office after serving Indian cricket for ages. “It feels like yesterday. When I started at the age of 16, the Board had no money. It was Narayan Damodar Karmarkar (popularly known as Mama Karmakar) — the first executive secretary of the BCCI — who tried bringing in money. He would even pay money to the employees from his own pocket,” he says.

-Tryst with Tendulkar-

The Internet was an alien term at the time, and the Board ‘would have to rely on the telegrams to alert players or associations about any decisions’. He clearly remembers the moment when he reached a Bandra household on a 1989 morning to inform a family that their youngest son, Sachin Tendulkar, has been picked in the Indian team.

“I went to his house to deliver the letter. His father, late Ramesh Tendulkar, was so happy to hear the news. He even made me have tea and snacks,” Tambe says with a smile, quickly adding that he went to the Tendulkar household again, 24 years later. This time to get some autographs on souvenirs during Tendulkar’s retirement. “That was an emotional moment for me as well. It seemed like I have literally seen Sachin grow,” he says.

-Will miss the excitement-

When he started working for the Board, his salary was meagre Rs 25 per month, and over the years, the salary has gone up to Rs 79,000 per month. But money has never bothered Tambe, who lives in the suburb of Virar in Mumbai with his wife and children. “I have never really cared too much about money, but I will miss the thrill. Every time you carry a trophy from one centre to the other, there is a huge risk factor, but that also is the challenge of the job,” he says.

Being the keeper of all the important and precious trophies, Tambe’s job is to bring them out of the Board’s safety locker in Mumbai, then transport them safely to the venue and then bring them back to the locker after the tournament is over. All the trophies are insured by the Board.

“Every time I take the trophies out of the locker, I feel the pressure. But then, having done, a similar thing for years, I have fallen in love with it,” Tambe says, adding that he does not know how would life be once he retires.

-Career free of mishaps-

In his long career, there has not been one incident where a trophy has been damaged or misplaced. Rather, he remembers an incident that happened in Indore during last season’s Ranji Trophy final.

When he handed over the trophy to the local crew at the Holkar Stadium, the top part of the trophy broke while moving it. “It weighed 15 kgs, and then, with the help of a local official, Rohit Pandit, we took it to the workshop, got it repaired and then brought it back to the stadium,” he says. It was 2 o’clock in the night by then. And next day, when Gujarat was handed over the trophy, it was in perfect condition. “It all comes with experience. There are so many memories attached to the trophies,” Tambe adds.

There was a time when the trophies would be taken from one venue to the other in the general compartments of trains, but that practice has since changed. “Now, we travel by AC two-tier. Earlier, the trophies would be taken in the second class compartments. It was of great risk. Now, the safety hazards are reduced,” he says.

However, in his illustrious career, he doesn’t recollect one instance when the trophies reached the venue late. “Once, I was travelling to Baroda from Mumbai for the Ranji final, but the guard at Mumbai VT station stopped me from taking the trophy on the train. Later, I convinced him. So, we reached Baroda just in time,” he says.

The headquarters of BCCI has honours boards, mentioning names of its past and present office bearers. But as Tambe walks into retirement in a few days, his name will not feature in any of those honours boards. But the man, who handled the toughest job of Indian cricket for more than four decades, will leave behind one key aspect — his legacy.