Mumbai bids emotional adieu to Ajit Wadekar

As the funeral procession made its way to the Shivaji Park Gymkhana, Wadekar’s friends and colleagues from the cricketing fraternity made it a point to visit their favourite ‘Jitya’, one last time.

Police personnel lift the mortal remains of former Indian cricketer Ajit Wadekar ahead of his funeral procession. Photo: PTI

The Worli sea-face is just a few minutes’ walk from the Sportsfield, which happens to be one of the prominent addresses of the city. Located right across the sea, the high-rise apartment is home to some of India’s cricket legends, Ajit Wadekar being one of them.

Wadekar’s final journey from his residence to the Shivaji Park Gymkhana — passing the sea-face en route — was an emotional experience for his family and friends. After all, he would normally take this route for his evening walks. That the soft-spoken gentleman would never be around again was yet to sink in. As his younger brother Ashok Wadekar managed the proceedings, chants of, ‘Wadekar Sir, Amar Rahe’ (Long live, Wadekar sir) made it evident how much Mumbai loved its stalwart.

After he passed away on Wednesday, the final rituals had to be delayed because two of his sons — Prasad and Vipul — and daughter Kashmira were abroad. Only after they reached the city late on Thursday did the family get ready to bid adieu to him.

Read: He carried the team on his shoulders — Durani on Wadekar

Wrapped in the tricolour, the body of the former India captain was kept at his residence for people to pay their last respects ahead of his cremation, which was performed later in the day at the Shivaji Park crematorium. His friends and colleagues from the cricketing fraternity made it a point to visit their favourite ‘Jitya’, one last time.

‘So much to learn’

While Sachin Tendulkar, Vinod Kambli and Sameer Dighe reached his house early in the day, his former team-mates Nari Contractor, Suru Naik, Ajit Pai were present as well.

Syed Saba Karim, Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) GM, cricket operations, also met the family and offered his condolences. “He was an example in so many ways. There was so much to learn from him as a player, coach, manager and selector. The way he inspired the youngsters to perform was amazing,” Karim told Sportstar. The BCCI plans to organise a condolence meeting at its headquarters in the next few days.

Relatives and friends carry the body of Ajit Wadekar. Photo: AFP

 

Wadekar, who led India to its first series victory in the West Indies and England in 1971, has been one of the main pillars of Mumbai cricket. When his body was brought to his old club — the Shivaji Park Gymkhana — the members ensured the ‘captain’ was given a grand farewell. Contemporaries Sandeep Patil and Padmakar Shivalkar, and former cricketers Nilesh Kulkarni and Jatin Paranjape, joined the procession from there.

‘Educated and intelligent cricketer’

The long rally proceeded towards the crematorium in Shivaji Park, where his last rites were performed with full state honours. The Mumbai Police gave him a gun salute. The ceremony opened a floodgate of memories for the old team-mates.

Read: Kapil, Sachin remember 'giant' Wadekar

“Ajit was particular about small things and his understanding of the match-situations were amazing,” Naik said.

Having played together for years, Naik also remembered how Wadekar would put the opponents under pressure with his brilliant game tactics. “He was an educated and intelligent cricketer — something quite rare in the cricketing circuit. There could be many great batsmen, but Ajit knew how to think out of the box and that made him stand out,” Naik, another Mumbai stalwart, said.

A difficult parting

Shivalkar, one of Wadekar’s old friends, was initially a bit hesitant to come for his last rites at the Shivaji Park crematorium. Because, having shared the dressing room for years, it was difficult for him to bid a farewell. “It is difficult to control your emotions. But then you think of Ajit and how he would always motivate you,” Shivalkar said.

Ajit Wadekar's old club — the Shivaji Park Gymkhana. Photo: Shayan Acharya

 

Having played together for years, Shivalkar still remembers how Wadekar would give him tips to trap batsmen. “He used to read the players very well. It was so easy for him. At times, he would tell me that the batsman is a bit weak on the leg and would give a few tips,” Shivalkar said. “There would be times, when he would say — ‘this is the ball, do whatever you want but get me wickets’. That was Ajit,” he reminisced.

A true patron of the game, Wadekar — even after quitting the game — made it a point to encourage youngsters and keep a tab on the game. A gentleman to the core, Wadekar made sure he had time even for sports scribes and the local administrators.

And that’s why those who have seen Wadekar from close quarters found it tough to bid him goodbye. Perhaps, as Shivalkar put it, “As I bid him farewell, I felt as if he would wake up and say, ‘take the ball Paddy and start bowling again’.”