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Monday, July 16, 2018

Coach of Mumbai greats craves a moment in the sun

The phone hardly rings through the day and his 86th birthday passes by like any other Sunday

Written by Devendra Pandey | Mumbai | Published: July 2, 2013 2:27:17 am

The phone hardly rings through the day and his 86th birthday passes by like any other Sunday. Staring into space unblinkingly for long,veteran cricket coach Vitthal S Patil,who taught the sport to countless cricketers from Podar College and Dadar Union,sits at his residence not even expecting anyone to remember.

Patil might be unknown to people outside Mumbai,but in the city’s cricketing circles he will be remembered as the man who guided the early careers of Dilip Vengsarkar,Ravi Shastri and Sanjay Manjrekar.

Today,the man who late in life got to be lovingly called VS “Marshall” Patil for his ability to bowl at a steady pace and move the ball prodigiously with minimal changes to his action like Malcolm Marshall,lives in neglect and solitude.

His proteges have moved on to bigger,affluent futures,but Patil,who remained a bachelor and tended to Mumbai’s nursery of Indian cricket from the late 1970s to the 1990s,is left staring at walls with paint peeling off every passing monsoon.

It has been more than a year since the former coach began suffering from old-age ailments. And having lived alone,Patil has been further removed from the outside world.

While the likes of Vengsarkar,Shastri,Manjrekar and Rohan Gavaskar were all coached by him at Podar College,there are many stories of how the legendary Sunil Gavaskar turned up at his doorstep for advice from the veteran coach when he went back to play for Dadar Union after representing the country.

Had his old-friend Tehmul Dahiwala,who runs the Dadar Parsee Colony CC in the vicinity,not known of his whereabouts and his failing health through local gardeners,Patil’s condition would have been worse.

“The whole house was dirty,he can’t even stand up properly,” Dahiwala says. “He had a creatinine problem. He has no one who can take care of him. Those players who represented the country and played more than 100 Test matches didn’t have the courtesy to call and ask after Patil’s health. He gave his entire life coaching them.”

The house is partly cleaned now,although the rains have seeped into the walls,with the mustiness never really leaving the single room abode. A small television is Patil’s only source of entertainment in the small room.

Dr Unmesh Khanvilkar,who escorts him to the hospital,said that Patil has been living alone and has no relative alive who can look after him. The neighbours have been given a key and they drop by frequently to check if everything’s fine.

Patil sits quietly in front of the TV,and whenever cricket gets mentioned,he starts speaking more fluently. Getting nostalgic at times about Podar College,he harks back to days when it was the champion team in the late 1970s and ‘80s.

“You know the Indian team used to come and watch Podar College practice sessions. We always had intense sessions,my only insistence was a player should analyse his own mistakes. Only practice could make them perfect,” Patil whispers in soft tones.

Sunil Gavaskar’s father Manohar was Patil’s friend while Sunil’s mother Meenal was his class mate. “Even Rohan played here,our relations are very good,” he added.

To keep his morale up,Dahiwala keeps engaging Patil with talk of cricket. Be it his endless 25-over spells in one of the local Kanga league games or his coaching style,Patil cherishes each moment. He still gets animated trying to show how with little change in action one can bowl in-swing and out-swing.

At the same time,he is worried about Mumbai’s cricketing future,as these days there are too many ‘experts’ advising a single aspiring cricketer,and team-loyalty is also on the wane,be it college or club.

Personally,no former India cricketer has called on him in these tough times and Patil’s hurt is evident when he says he was not even invited when Dadar Union got a make-over recently.

“Nobody has called me,times have changed. It’s a busy world,no one has time these days. Only a few of my students who are based abroad keep track of my health. And there are a few,who played local cricket who are frequent visitors these days. Indian cricketers haven’t even called once,” Patil rues.

The landline phone suddenly rings and Patil excitedly hopes it could be one of his former India students. His voice dips to a wordless mumble,and you know it’s not a call from a famous name.

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