Son of a father bedridden for the last 20 years, and a poor clerk’s son who himself fell critically ill after a severe bout of dengue have all but ensured Vidarbha will be the Ranji champions barring a miracle, and in the process gave us two heart-warming stories of triumph against adversity in the new year.
When Wasim Jaffer fell in the morning to an iffy lbw decision, it seemed Delhi might yet storm back into the game. Akshay Wadkar waltzed to an unbeaten 133, and Aditya Sarwate, whose father never quite recovered from an accident, hit a momentum-seizing 79 to snuff out Delhi. Their resistance lasted nearly 50 overs, yielded 169 runs, and when Sarwate fell, Siddesh Nerul, the fastbowler, threw his bat around for an entertaining fifty to break Delhi’s heart. At 233, the lead has already reached mammoth proportions, courtesy the enterprising duo.
Anand Sarwate had gone to Mumbai to meet his brother in law when a tanker smashed into his vehicle, and he went into coma. He recovered consciousness but couldn’t make full recovery and would be confined to the bed. His wife Anushree, who worked in a bank, was the one who took care of the husband with help from the young Akshay. The boy would occasionally help bathe his father, would feed him, and continues to do it as he has grown into adulthood.
“He is the toughest boy I have seen,” says Sharad Padhye, who was a secretary at the Nagpur Cricket association for a few years and runs a club Navniketan where Akshay plays. “His father was a local cricketer himself, and my team-mate then – credit must be given to his mother and to Aditya himself.”
The boy kept stumbling into people who have helped him along the way – Padhye of course, and Praveen Hinganikar, who mentored him in the cricket academy. “Usney asli zindagi dekhi hai,” (he has seen real life), Hinganikar says. Aditya had to wait for good things in life: even the selectors at various stages have made him wait. “He was consistent in U-23 but Ranji call never came. I would tell him, beta, you have no option but to score more runs and take wickets,” Hinganikar says. “He would do it, and ask me, “would that be enough. Sir?” And I would tell him, “no, no more. Until the selectors pick you.”
Even this season, he couldn’t make it to the playing XI in the first two games. More waiting. And then when the chance came, he has capitalised. A brave knock against Bengal, where he had to leave the field after copping couple of blows on the head but returned to take his team to safety. Wickets too have come in a bag for a man who considered himself a batsman who could bowl until Narendra Hirwani made him in rethink in 2015. “I saw him bowl, his control, and I thought he could be a good spinner – and all I gave him was that self-belief,” Hirwani says.
Patience and calmness came easily to the man who has seen struggles in the family, and Delhi saw it in abundance on Sunday. It was Aditya who seized the initiative in the partnership with Akshay, driving and cutting the seamers to disarray to allow Vidarbha get over Jaffer’s exit. He flicked, on drove, and cut the spinners a lot as well, and got a reprieve on 46 when Gautam Gambhir couldn’t react quickly to take a catchable ball at slip off the left-arm spinner Vikas Mishra.
Delhi were without left arm spinner Manan Sharma, who hurt his leg on Saturday and had been ruled out of game, and Gautam Gambhir too was out of field after afternoon after jamming his fingers on field. Apart from a good morning spells, in particular by Nitin Saini, Delhi were largely listless and Vidarbha duo piled on the agony
At the start of this season, Akshay Wadkar went to Chandrakant Pandit with a request. “Will you allow me to continue batting in an aggressive fashion? Do I have your permission to bat in my natural way?” Granted his wish, he has chipped in with vital game-turning contributions this season.
By all accounts an upbeat character, Wadkar was nicknamed ‘Dev Anand’ after the movie star by Jaffer. His gait, and the general demeanour apparently earned him that tag. The ball was moving around a bit in the morning, and if there were any doubts in the camp after the nightwatchman fell, Wadkar settled the nerves.
The front foot repeatedly strode well forward as he negated quickish pace of Nitin Saini. And then one shot killed all residues of doubt. A shortish ball outside off was walloped on a bent knee to point boundary in some style, and that was that. He hardly looked in trouble afterwards, shots around the park punctuated by compact defense.
He had interest in the game from a very young age but lack of money would occasionally trip him. Like cricket shoes, or bat, or fees to pay cricket academies. He found a benefactor in coach Madhav Bakre, who helped the boy with cricket gear, finances, and ensured he didn’t leave the game.
“Itna accha ladka hai. Nagpur mein there are many young cricketers who change after some success. Not this boy. Even today, he comes to play in club games with younger children, constantly motivating them.”
Also, ever since money came in, he would go to Bakre every month. “I would take the money for club, and return the rest to him.” Bakre was there at the ground at Indore to watch Akshay, who was U-23 Vidarbha captain not long ago. “He called me yesterday, and insisted that I come down and I am watching him from the first ball.”
Bakre remembers a few years ago when Akshay was in running for India’s U-19 team with strong performances. But during a tournament in Chennai, he was hit by dengue, and situation turned critical. The blood platelet dipped alarmingly to barely a lakh, and he was in critical care, and Bakre recollects that he couldn’t even see him. “His family and I were all scared a lot but luckily he recovered.”
He bounced back with a twin hundreds in a Cooch Behar game, when he was stuck with jaundice. “With that, his U-19 dreams of playing for India were gone,” Bakre says.
Together with Aditya Sarwate and Neral, Akshay has allowed Vidarbha to not just dream but probably ensure they have one hand on the Ranji Trophy.
Brief Scores: Vidarbha (first innings) 528/7 in 156 overs (Akshay Wadkar 133 not out, Akshay Sarwate 79, Wasim Jaffer 78, Siddesh Neral 56 not out; Navdeep Saini 3/126, Akash Sudan 2/102, Kulwant Khejroliya 122/1) lead Delhi (first innings) 295 in 102.5 overs by 233 runs at stumps on Day 3.