As the news came in of former India cricket captain Ajit Wadekar passing away, there seemed to be a deafening silence among the cricketing diaspora. Flashes of the upturned collar, the left shoulder droop as he came out to bat with a swagger. It was the dragging of his heels on the turf as he walked that sent out a message that he was in control and this was home turf for him.
The Lochinvar coming out of the west in this context was Ajit Laxman Wadekar. India’s knight in shining armour was representing the rising middle class domination in a sport generally dominated by the elite. This changing face of Indian cricket was only a reflection of a changing India. The resilient middle class had reached the top by striving hard and performing well.
Ajit Wadekar embodied the new India. If sport, and especially Indian cricket, was to be highlighted by its defining moments, 1971 would be the year of its resurgence. The indelible marks of respect and global acceptance were led by captain Ajit Wadekar.
Indian cricket was no longer a by-product of a British Raj sport played by royalties to ‘appease’ the ‘lagaan‘ (tax collector) gora sahibs (white man). It had its own place and dignity on the global stage. Wadekar and his team had managed to get rid of the “pariah” tag!
Ajit Wadekar had become synonymous with leadership with those ‘two away’ wins. In an era where numbers didn’t matter to judge class and worth, he commanded reverence amongst his peers and adversaries alike. It was this respect that made my generation admire him the same way. In an era where radio commentary painted pictures of this great game, Wadekar pretty much became the protagonist in the revolution of Indian cricket.
My generation was in awe of his demeanor. Calm, undemonstrative and yet fearless was Wadekar. Being a banker by profession, he seemed calculative in his leadership style and unflustered when under pressure.
His greatest quality was his patience – he would listen to people and add “that’s right” as if to say I agree with you, knowing fully well, that at the end, he only would do that what he believed in. How could one not walk away with a ‘feel good’ state of mind when one of Indian cricket’s sharpest and argumentative minds lent you an ear and validated your point of view with “that’s right”.
I got to spend time with Ajit Wadekar for two reasons.
He had time for Bombay (now Mumbai) cricketers. He talked cricket with an air of humility and humour. I once asked him how he wasn’t an “I” specialist, to which he replied that he’d rather let others talk about him and the only “I specialist” he visited was an optician!
He was much like a pied piper for the cricketing fraternity. Juniors and seniors flocked around him for anecdotes. After all, he was Captain when a young player by the name Sunil Gavaskar walked on to the hallowed turf of cricket to make a serious impact on world cricket or the renaissance man Dilip Sardesai’s ‘rebirth’ under his leadership or even his handling of the world class talent of the great spin quartet.
His humour and his ability to not take himself or life too seriously may have been the secret to his stature as an iconic leader of our generation.
As Ajit Wadekar would walk back to the pavilion…head held high, having played the game his way, as captain batsman, coach and administrator, one could only stand back and applaud with a “Well played, Sir”.
Shishir Hattangadi is a former Indian first-class cricketer who played for Bombay cricket team from 1981-82 to 1991-92.