A batsman of rare merit

Dilip Sardesai... the memories will remain, and what a treasure they will always be.-PTI

If Dilip Sardesai took a player under his wing, then he would go all out to help him develop to full potential. He certainly did that with me on the 1971 West Indies tour, writes Sunil Gavaskar.

Dilip Sardesai...

Dilip Sardesai’s death has taken away from our midst, the second of the two batsmen who literally turned Indian cricket around and gave it the belief that it could cope with pace, and that too on overseas pitches. Dilip’s partner in that epic stand in the West Indies in 1971 was Eknath Solkar, who left us suddenly two years ago. There is no doubt that if cricket is played up there and a team is in a critical situation, then the ‘Sardi-Ekki’ partners hip will take them to safety.

Dilip’s passing was a surprise because though he hadn’t been in the best of health, he was still attending cricketing functions till recently and holding forth his views on Indian cricket and how to improve it. He had strong opinions and was never afraid to express them, which is a big disqualification in Indian cricket if a player is expecting to be a selector or in any administrative post. There are many players who are like that, and Indian cricket sadly keeps them at a distance. The loss, of course, is for Indian cricket. The Mumbai Cricket Association did make use of his experience as a selector and then he was in its Cricket Improvement Committee, and his contribution was there for all to see. He was one of those who would go to the maidans if he heard that a schoolboy was promising. If impressed, he would sing his praises and speak to the selectors to keep an eye on the boy. In fact, nothing gave him a bigger pleasure than spotting new talent and guiding it to greater heights.

If he took a player under his wing, then he would go all out to help him develop to full potential. He certainly did that with me on the 1971 West Indies tour. That he believed in me was evident on the first day itself when he told the immigration officials at Jamaica airport to watch out for me even though I hadn’t played a Test and more importantly I had not played the Duleep Trophy then, which in those days was the stepping stone to Test cricket.

Then, later on in the evening, at a party thrown by a businessman of Indian origin, he ran after a young Indian who had poked fun when he came to know that I was an opening batsman and had said that Garry Sobers would bowl me first ball behind my legs. Dilip caught hold of him and made him apologise to me, saying that the young man had no business to demoralise me and in fact, being an Indian, should encourage me instead. When that youngster said that he was a Jamaican, Dilip lost his cool even more and it was Wadekar who had to intervene and asked him to take it easy. However, that incident showed me how much a senior, experienced player believed in me and it was a true example of team spirit.

That spirit was even more in evidence as the tour went along as he pulled India out of trouble along with Solkar in the first Test and then again in the Barbados Test. Those two centuries, the first one was a double hundred, were classic ones with all the shots in the book, except the hook shot, which he studiously avoided as he was good enough to get under the short ball without any problem. He informed us that he had given up the hook shot after the 1962 West Indies tour when he saw Vijay Manjrekar, who he thought was the best hooker of the ball, being late on the shot.

He also believed and quite rightly too that if a batsman was able to leave the bouncer safely then the fast bowlers would give up trying that and concentrate on other deliveries to get him out. His technique saw him being promoted to opening the batting for India, but his temperament was that of a middle-order batsman, and that’s why he was never comfortable in the opening slot. Like today, the competition for a place in the Indian middle order was great, and so Dilip saw his chance only at the top and did a good job of it, especially on Indian pitches. The 200 not out he got in the second innings against the rampaging New Zealand new-ball attack of Dick Motz and Bruce Taylor after India had been bowled out for 80-odd and were asked to follow on was an innings of the highest quality, and which I remember watching from the north stand of the Brabourne Stadium. It was a lively pitch and the bouncers that the Kiwi fast bowlers delivered were often collected by the jumping ’keeper high over his head.

It was good to see the Indian team wearing a black armband in Dilip’s memory, for in recent times they have not always done that. Like in the past, the current team does not always think highly of the past players, especially the ones who have been critical of them in print or the electronic media. But like everybody who retires and then joins the media, they too will find out that it’s not personal, but a job to be done and there will always be occasions when the past player, however reluctant he may be to do so, will have to say hard things about the action he sees on the field.

Yes, there will always be the odd past player who will take delight in the current player not doing well, but that’s invariably the one who feels that he is a greater player than most of the current ones and hasn’t got the rewards from the game that he should have. So, it’s more a case of envy than anything else. Dilip was never like that. He never grudged the current player his status and rewards, and was all too aware that cricket had become a richer sport in India in the last decade or so, but also that there was now a greater scrutiny of the modern player than in the past. The link that held the Indian team together in 1971 is gone now, but the memories will remain, and what a treasure they will always be.

Thanks for the memories ‘Sardi Maan’. Rest in Peace.