Rich tributes paid to Wadekar

Vengsarkar and Contractor recount anecdotes about the former India skipper.

Paying respects: Members of the Wadekar family, former India captain Nari Contractor and former MCA president Sharad Pawar observing a moment’s silence at the condolence meeting.

Former India captain Dilip Vengsarkar paid tributes to his “childhood idol” Ajit Wadekar, who died last week, and remembered the influence the latter enjoyed even after his abrupt retirement in 1974.

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Speaking at a remembrance meeting for the former India skipper, organised by the Mumbai Cricket Association, here on Wednesday, Vengsarkar said: “When I was first selected for an overseas tour — it was for the Wadekar XI for a developmental tour to Sri Lanka (in 1975-76) — weeks after Sandeep (Patil) and I had helped the (Bombay) University win the Rohinton Baria Trophy, I called him up and told him I didn’t have a passport.

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“He called me to his office the next day and by the end of the day, I had the passport delivered. That was Wadekar, going out of the way to help youngsters. That tour gave me the much-needed exposure as I shared the dressing room and learnt from veterans like G.R. Viswanath, Aunshuman Gaekwad and Ramakant Desai.”

Vengsarkar also recalled the healthy rivalry his club Dadar Union enjoyed with Shivaji Park Gymkhana, Wadekar’s cricketing alma mater in the same locality.

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Nari Contractor, one of Wadekar’s predecessors as India skipper, trashed the “lucky captain” tag attached to Wadekar for leading the team to memorable series wins in England and West Indies in 1971.

“If a captain turns out to be lucky for his team’s success, then the selectors should only select the squad and consult an astrologer for selecting the captain,” said Contractor.

“I faced the challenge of managing veterans, who I had played under, as captain of the Indian team, while Ajit had to get the best out of a bunch of youngsters. And he kept on doing it consistently, not just as captain but even as manager, coach and selector.”

Wadekar’s wife Rekha also addressed the meeting, attended by Wadekar’s family members, a few former Test cricketers, current and former cricket administrators and the disabled cricket fraternity for which Wadekar emerged as the ambassador post-retirement.

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In an emotional speech, Mrs. Wadekar recalled how Wadekar’s association with disabled cricket started. “During the motorcade celebrations in 1971 (after the series win in England), a kid on crutches walked up to him and said even he wants to play like Ajit but doesn’t know how to,” she said.

“That made him think and he got into action right away and got permission from Vijay Merchant (the stalwart who was supporting disabled cricket fraternity) and fought for them all his life. Recognition to disabled cricketers would be the best way to keep his memory alive.”