Delhi: Indian cricket has lost one of its most stylist test batsman, great captain and equally great coach, Ajit Wadekar. Wadekar passed away on Wednesday at the age of 77.
Today’s generation may not be familiar with Wadekar who has the rare distinction of leading India to their first overseas wins in England and West Indies in the Seventies. Wadekar was a left-handed batsman whose aggressive stroke play was a delight to watch. Wadekar scored 2,113 runs in his test career, including one hundred. He was also India’s first ODI captain, although he appeared in just two matches.
According to a report published in Hindu, Milind Rege, who played for many years under Wadekar in the Ranji Trophy, has been quoted as saying that 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,” adds Rege.
Old timers recall that the late Wadekar was enjoying a nap on the massage table as Abid Ali scored the winning runs to secure India’s famous win at The Oval in 1971 over Raymond Illingworth’s men. Such memories assume importance in today’s context as Team India struggle to save the ongoing series against England having lost the first two tests already.
There is an interesting story behind the selection of Wadekar as captain for the 1971 tour of the West Indies. He was chosen the skipper ahead of Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi. At the meeting, one of the five selectors was conspicuous by his absence prompting 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.
That Wadekar was a great captain is evident from that fact that he adroitly 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.
According to a report published in Indian Express, Wadekar was instrumental in the ‘trial by spin’ that Indian teams would enforce upon all comers with perfect results. The report says that Wadekar did it initially while holding the reins in the 1970s when he had the likes of Bishan Singh Bedi, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, Srinivas Venkatraghavan and Erapalli Prasanna at his disposal. The report also adds that he would later use the same strategy to turn India into a indomitable force at home in the 1990s, this time utilising the trio of Anil Kumble, Venkatpathy Raju and Rajesh Chauhan to knock the stuffing out of every visiting team on pitches that would be heavily tailored in favour of the spinners.
Wadekar also served as India’s manager in the ‘90s during Mohammed Azharuddin’s tenure as captain. He later went on to become the chairman of selectors as well.