Updated: January 3, 2019 6:45:51 pm
Ramakant Achrekar’s was a name from the old world of guru-shishya parampara, a cricket coach who was once a pre-eminent feature of Mumbai cricket culture and whose tribe has now become a romantic piece of nostalgia about a lost world. For forever and a day, he would be hyphenated with Sachin Tendulkar, his most famous shishya. But not only has he produced the likes of Vinod Kambli, Pravin Amre and Ajit Agarkar among other professional cricketers, he would primarily be known for making little boys fall in love with the game in Mumbai’s maidans.’
The coaching doyen passed away due to old-age ailments at his Shivaji Park residence on Wednesday evening. He was 86. A father to five daughters, he also encouraged the love for the game in his children, one of whom took over his coaching mantle.
“Cricket in heaven will be enriched with the presence of Achrekar Sir,” Sachin Tendulkar said in a condolence statement. “Like many of his students, I learnt my ABCD of cricket under Sir’s guidance. His contribution to my life cannot be captured in words. He built the foundation that I stand on. Last month, I met Sir along with some of his students and spent some time together. We shared a laugh as we remembered the old times,” he wrote.
His relationship with Tendulkar in itself offers a glimpse into the world of Achrekar. Once he realised the talent and passion of the curly-haired kid, he immersed Tendulkar into his dreamy cricket bubble.
Coins on top of bails became motivational inducements for tiring young bowlers to bowl for hours, and prized souvenirs for Tendulkar to not lose his wicket.
Tendulkar became the most passionate pillion-rider on Achrekar’s bike that would traverse across cricket grounds to provide game-and-character building opportunities to the boy who would go on to become India’s destiny child, and a barometer for the nation’s mood.
He had enough love for the game and a keen understanding of a kid’s aspirations that he didn’t stub the unreasonable hope of the youngster trying his hand at becoming a fast bowler until Dennis Lillee intervened.
His forte was contributing to a young boy’s cricket growth. The basics, as they say. As with Kambli, it was not always in his hand – how far his proteges would fulfill their promise and use their talent – but it was he who sowed the seed. No wonder, even years after his retirement, Tendulkar would almost romantically sigh about how he rarely got a ‘well played, great knock’ commendation from Achrekar.
It’s not just Tendulkar who accomplished a lot and raves and respects him. There are the likes of Amre and other lesser-known names who have remained grateful for what Achrekar provided them in their formative years.
A State Bank of India cricketer in his playing years – he kept wickets and batted up the order – Achrekar lived at Wadala before moving to Dadar’s Shivaji Park suburb. He would soon devote himself to instilling in his wards the discipline and pride of Bombay batsmanship, without ever cramping their natural talent and attempting to enforce the tyranny of textbook technique into each of them.
Former India and Mumbai stumper Sameer Dighe recalls how this ensured that batsmen blossomed freely, but remained meticulous. “He could judge each player’s natural ability – that was his ultimate greatness. He knew what worked for whom. Warna Sachin ka bottom hand Sir kabhika change kar dete. Lekin nahi kiya. He would know ki bottom hand se khel raha hai, aur ball upar se ja raha hai. Lekin unko Sachin ka exact ability pata tha. Like, he knew what clicked for Vinod Kambli or Lalchand Rajpoot – all very different batsmen,” he explains.
Maidan tales are replete with Achrekar’s determined scooter rides criss-crossing the city for his wards constant match-play, and drilling into them the ability to withstand pressure. “He always believed good batting was a process. You can only improve day by day. If you can’t hone batting everyday, you won’t be consistent. He made batsmen mentally tough,” Dighe adds. The Mumbai stumper recalls how Achrekar met him after his debut century in the Ranji Trophy, and pointed out how he was all at sea in the first three deliveries; how his head and front foot were out of position, and balance was off. “I’ve seen Sachin go to his nets after scoring 100-150, and he would point out the mistakes. It wasn’t criticism. He just wanted us to cut out all errors,” he recalls.
Tendulkar has spoken often about the treats that the coach reserved for batsmen who performed well – pani puri and kulfi and Sunday lunch where games would be discussed threadbare, washed down with acute analysis of errors. “Sunday lunch meant he was happy with us, though he never praised outright,” Dighe says.
More than all this though, Achrekar gave his charges an insatiable love for the game that has allowed them a life in a dreamy but ephemeral world of sport. That in itself, regardless of other “failures” (read who didn’t become legends like Tendulkar), will remain his greatest achievement. Especially, when one considers that his tribe is a rapidly-dying breed in these days of organised and plastic world of academies.
“Achrekar sir taught us the virtues of playing straight and living straight. Thank you for making us a part of your life and enriching us with your coaching manual. Well played Sir and may you coach more wherever you are,” Tendulkar wrote. —Inputs from Devendra Pandey
‘A practical man, treated everyone the same’
I owe everything I’ve achieved in life to him and I was fortunate enough to get some of his best years. His work ethic was in the simple thing he told us: There’s enough time in life to rest, but right now it’s time to work hard. And he led by example. He’d be the first on the cricket ground and the last to leave. We thought, then why not us?
He’d mellowed down by the time he coached us, but once I remember missing evening practice and rushing home because my trouser was torn. Next day, Sir refused to let me practise and summoned my father from his office work. He said, ‘It’s ok if trouser is torn, but he can’t miss practice and run home. Next time, this won’t be tolerated.’ Maybe bowling is not something I learnt from him but there are other things that I have learnt from him that are important. One thing he didn’t want to change was your natural style. He didn’t mess around with that. He made us play games, seven days a week. Match temperament is something which most of the guys who came under him were pretty good at. If you are playing day-in-day-out and a decent enough player, you’ll obviously get better.
He was a very practical man. He treated everyone the same and made everyone work hard which eventually made us not only better players but better persons as well. He never cared about money, and such selflessness is not seen now. Maybe that is why he was able to produce so many players. There’d be so many nets at the same time, but he could spot a good player from a distance. That made him a very special man.
‘Never saw him take a holiday’
Someone like Sachin Tendulkar or Virat Kohli, they have a presence on the ground, waisa tha unka; there used to be a buzz on the ground when he arrived. Never once did I see him take a holiday. And we also got the same habit of not missing nets for a single day. He understood Sachin was different, he understood I was different, he understood Kambli was different.
Once Sharadashram was playing a practice game at Hindu Gymkhana. We were playing Tarcy XI where Manoj Joglekar (former Mumbai batsman) used to play. We chased 60-70 odd runs and match got over by 12 noon. Joglekar came and asked if we’ll play one more match. We said, chal, you lost just now and went to Chawpatty nearby.
We took a train and reached Shivaji Park by 4 pm. Joglekar had already reached before us as he used to practise in the nearby nets. Sir asked what he was doing there and he told Sir that we had refused to play a second match. We came happily and felt Sir will be proud we beat a good team. Then he pulled out a stump and whacked us all on the palm. He said ‘life mein kabhi match mat miss karna’.
‘He’d spend on our food, equipment’
We saw him as a father figure and sought him out for every decision – which game to play, which company or club team to play for, and where to take up a job. He could advise on which college to take admission in, and help you progress from B division to Gymkhana because he knew where every player stood in ability.
I personally remember playing on a matting wicket, where Sunil Gawad was bowling a sharp spell and I was grabbing the ball instead of collecting it. Actually my gloves were worn out and the ball was hurting me. After eight days, when I’d performed well in a match, he treated me to pani puri and kulfi and bought me new gloves – just like the ones Sadanand Viswanath used to wear.
When we played badly, we couldn’t stand in front of him, as he would round us up and give a demonstration of our mistakes. The fee at Kamat Memorial was Rs 7, and I hadn’t paid it for six months, but he never asked me why I hadn’t paid. He had a huge family with five daughters to take care of, but he’d still spend on our food and equipment.
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