Home English Playing round the year is the key, says Wadekar.
“Are you sure it wasn’t Pollykaka (Polly Umrigar)?”
Ajit Wadekar is surprised when you tell him he has lifted the Ranji Trophy as the Mumbai captain the most number of times. “Maybe it was because I would have joined the team only for the final or so or some of the other greats would have handed over the reins to an India regular,” says the 76-year-old and tries to play down his achievement, although one can clearly not miss the element of pride in his voice.
Mr. Wadekar would definitely go down in the annals of world cricket as the man who led India to its maiden Test series wins in the West Indies and England in 1971. But for the man himself, ‘playing for and leading Bombay’ was as good as any of his other sporting achievements.
Besides being involved in various Mumbai cricket set-ups for almost six decades, Mr. Wadekar was an integral part of Mumbai’s record run of 15 successive titles from 1958-59.
So what is it that has worked for Mumbai cricket to retain its supremacy in domestic cricket for more than eight decades?
“The key for this is the fact that we keep playing tournaments around the year. Even now, Mumbai’s would be the most competitive local circuit. Even in the off-season, Mumbai cricketers play the Kanga League. Not only does it help them improve their technique but that also keeps them match-fit,” Mr. Wadekar said.
“It also leads to healthy competition. Shivaji Park Gymkhana rivalry against Dadar Union is probably one of the most sought-after in the world. Such rivalry leads to players knowing each other really well and play as a team at the higher level. So competitive are players since childhood that the urge to keep winning inculcated into them naturally.”
When you ask him to recall his most memorable match for Mumbai, Mr. Wadekar pauses. You start thinking if he would mention his triple ton against the Karnataka (then Mysore) attack comprising B.S. Chandrasekhar and E.A.S. Prasanna or the famous double against Rajasthan, with the likes of Vinoo Mankad, Subhash Gupte and Salim Durani in the opposition camp. Instead he mentions the ‘semi-final that we lost’.
The 1973-74 semi-final loss to Karnataka on the basis of the first innings lead put an end to Mumbai’s 15-year winning streak. That loss still hurts Mr. Wadekar. “I remember Viswanath scored a big hundred (162) which set the game up for Karnataka. It was a bitter pill to swallow.”
Since then, Mumbai has found it difficult to maintain its dominance. Rather than blaming the Mumbai cricket fraternity, Mr. Wadekar compliments the teams. “You have got to give the credit to other teams. They also have started winning. We had some bad times in between, playing against Karnataka and Delhi. It is not necessary that we should keep on winning. But Mumbai cricketers tend to find ways to win.”