When I recently met Vijay Mohan Raj, my team mate in the Hyderabad Ranji team and a senior whom we all respected and admired during our playing days recently I had this one question - why is the Bombay side so good? He gave me his views based on his experiences in playing with the Bombay team in the late seventies and also told me to read this book 'Bombay Boys' by Makarand Waingankar, one of India's leading cricket writers. So I got a copy and read it to understand what makes the Bombay cricketer what he is.
Makarand Waingankar profiles 60 odd cricketers from Bombay and from their profiles and bits of conversations, I could get a hang of what it must be like playing for Bombay. There is no shortage of talent in Bombay and that makes it hard for everyone to get a place. There are many stars around which has its ups - playing with them you learn so many things. The cricket atmosphere is serious as is reflected by the commitment and quality of cricket coaches, seniors and mentors. They talk knowledgeable cricket, play tough, focus on work ethic and correct technique, play to win and pride their Bombay cap more than anything else. The only thing that counts in the end is this - have you won the game and how have you contributed to it. Its all guts and glory stuff and unbridled passion. It makes you think that one must be fortunate to have been born in Bombay to experience cricket as they play it. I am glad I played two years of Times Shield cricket for IDBI in the mid nineties and cherish those days.
One of the things that really impressed me was Ashok Mankad's great captaincy. I wish Ashok Mankad had written a book about his captaincy - it would have given Brearley's book a run for its money. Maybe Makarand could still do it for him with the resources he has at hand. Ashok Mankad was a captain who could motivate people beyond their capabilities by giving them chaavi,
or motivating them. His sharp mind looked for weaknesses in opposition players and he employed his mind in trapping them. He was quick with his wit and strategy which made him lead Bombay to several Ranji Trophy wins. The same sharp brain that picked out weaknesses in opposition players also picked out exactly what each of his own players needed to make them perform better. For some a quiet word, some admonishment, some a plea - each was dealt with differently. Once he bowled Raju Kulkarni for 34 overs against Delhi by bowling him in short spells of 3-4 overs and egging him on to get a wicket in each - Raju ended up with 8 wickets. He made Yograj Singh believe in his abilities as an opener in a game and told him that he was his Viv Richards - Yograj got 136. He promoted Sandeep Patil to bat at number 5 and when he failed and was disconsolate, Ashok Mankad asked him to watch the game and learn to fight it out. He made his wicket keeper Sanjay Hazare keep wickets through a bleeding injury on his face for three days during which Sanjay Hazare only had liquid diet but still pushed himself to win the game with the bat for Bombay. And the same Ashok Mankad pushed Rakesh Tandon with jibes like 'Two or three wickets won't do. When will you ever win a match for Bombay?' in a key match against Hyderabad. Tandon got 6 wickets and won the game. He was supreme. In fact much of Bombay's spirit is reflected in this deep thinking, this mischief, this thinking beyond what the normal cricketer does. Fantastic stuff.
Another skipper who impressed was Vasu Paranjpe whose humour made everyone love him. He'd take away the pressure, give confidence to the youngsters and keep their minds active with his wit. Manohar Hardikar was also considered a great captain because he seemed to know his players capabilities better than the players themselves. It takes great love to do that.
In the legion of coaches and mentors we have the fantastic story of Achrekar going to Chandrakant Pandit's home in the middle of the night and giving 1000 rupees to his father to put the boy in Shadrashram school so he could continue playing cricket. Amazing stuff. Or Vasant Amladi who treated nets like a classroom, kept things simple and trained himself in Marathi, English and Hindi so he could communicate better. Also he encouraged his wards to question the 'why' and made them think. VS Patil who would make the boys practice long to sort out their own mistakes. Ramnath Kenny who discouraged discussions on non-cricketing matters. Polly Umrigar who would want to know why he failed because he was not prepared to accept that one can fail. Joe Kamath who made fielding so interesting and made the team so good that the team hardly dropped a catch. And so many more surely. I remember having discussions with Madhav Bapat of IDBI who had a fine cricketing brain himself and would touch on finer points like watching the ball till it hits the face of the bat or keeping a still head.
Other stuff that hits you is the commitment of players for the Bombay cap. Whether it was Eknath Solkar who turned up at the match to bat after he lit the pyre of his father and won a tight game, Sudhakar Adhikari who married at 903 am and arrived at the ground at 1015 am to play a game, Sanjay Hazare playing with a bleeding mouth, GK Sunderam who bowled his heart out to the extent that he got injured and cut his career short - Bombay cricket is full of guts and glory stories. They are tough, they are intelligent, they know their game and they will fight like hell to win. Mostly they will give up everything to play for Bombay. There is much to learn from the Bombay Boys.
I looked at their cricket also from the dressing room atmosphere. Bombay never had time for politics when it came to cricket because they wanted to win. Hence you had merit shining through. If Vijay Merchant and a few others were from a wealthy background, many came from backgrounds which were humble. Abdul Ismail was the son of a taxi driver who benefited from the love of a Hindu Kerkar family, Budhi Kunderan who slept on the wall in a garden the night before his first test match because he lived in a chawl with six siblings and had no kit, no gloves when he played his first match for India, Solkar himself whose father was a groundsman, Sharad Diwadkar who sold wrist watches and many other great cricketers who came through on sheer talent. Bombay did not discriminate on any other ground but merit because the city cared about its cricket. As Shishir Hattangadi says, they learned to fend for themselves the hard way.
Its amazing how many school boy cricketers in Bombay have scored triple hundreds and even quadruple hundreds - Ramesh Nagdev is one who scored 427 at the Harris Shield level. It is also amazing to see how many cricketers still actively serve the game in many capacities. Many played Kanga League well past their fifties -Madhav Apte played until he was 71, for 55 years, Sharad Hazare still plays at 67, Bapu Nadkarni stepped on to field in a first class match at 41. How many cricketers play even till 50 in other cities?
I am so glad Makarand Waingankar wrote this book. One can see the effort and love that went into the making of this book and the genuine respect that he has for both the players and the game. He is all for the players and takes on the system, the selectors, and even fate to defend the players and their troubles, their difficulty in life or at not having played more than their share. Its true, many Bombay players lost out in the quota system because they had a talent that was simply too overpowering. Much to learn for all aspiring cricketers from this book as it sets the tone for how to prepare and how to commit. Wonderful effort and I'd like to get him to sign on my copy someday soon.
I could recall playing with some of the players - I bowled to Ravi Shastri just after he returned from the famous Champion of Champions tour, Dilip Vengsarkar, Vijay Mohan Raj (who also played for Tata's in that game at Arlem), Raju Kulkarni, Balwinder Singh Sandhu, Shishir Hattangadi, Ramnath Parkar, Sanjay Manjrekar, Sandeep Patil and even Ajit Pai later on in the Times Shield while playing for IDBI. It has always been a lesson playing against them, or even listening to them. I saw many names missing from the list - Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli and their lot, Sanjay Manjrekar from the earlier lot, and several other names. I wonder why.
I have two theories about why certain players do not play beyond their capabilities. I come from my own perspective too here. I think it is a question of belief in one's own capabilities. Many times the world thinks we are good but we may have many limiting negative beliefs on our own lives that could make us the hard luck stories. The ones who sail through somehow rise above such beliefs and ones who cannot, make the hard luck stories come true. Its you and yourself, no one else can help you. Self-belief is a tough thing and one gets lucky to have mentors like Ashok Mankad do help - whether it was writing a letter to Sandeep Patil in England to pep him up or telling a distressed Ravi Shastri after he got a pair in a Ranji match that the light at the end of the tunnel is the brightest. Shastri played for India soon after. But much depends on the player's own belief and courage to push forward on his own to be the best himself, to trust the game and put his best step forward. The real seekers prosper, the others stay back. However there are ways and means to counter these limiting negative beliefs and mental conditioning coaches can help.
Thanks Makarand Waingankar. And thanks Tony a.k.a. Vijay Mohan Raj, for referring me this book. Now I know why you came to Hyderabad to play first class cricket! I also believe as Makarand does, that Tony could have played for India had he been in Bombay. But then we might have had a tough time claiming that Ranji Trophy in 1986-87 when we did, without him, a win that I take so much pride in. Tony epitomised the spirit of Bombay cricket - hard, tough, playing within limitations, not being satisfied easily, pushing limits all the time, calling a spade a spade, bent on winning - and its a trait that earns respect. I always found him above petty politics in the team, had a good word for us when we did something right and certainly showed grit by example. In the end, I guess all of us cricketers in India owe a big thanks to the Bombay Boys for the standards they set and the work ethic they exemplified.