The tears flowed freely despite Sachin Tendulkar trying hard to control them. Behind him, Vinod Kambli broke down while Pravin Amre started sobbing after the pyre was lit. Nearby, Ramesh Powar was mobbed by TV crews but broke off midway, unable to complete his tribute.
At the Shivaji Park crematorium Thursday, emotions overwhelmed these former cricketers of Shardashram High School — veteran India stars who had faced the toughest challenges in world cricket without flinching — during the last rites of their coach Ramakant Achrekar, who passed away Wednesday at the age of 86.
It was time to say goodbye to the man who had laid the foundation of Tendulkar’s career and given Indian cricket its first Jai-Viru pairing of Tendulkar-Kambli.
The Shardashram “boys” had never seen Achrekar Sir without his cap, his mere presence generating awe, a “well played” from him deemed “priceless”. And as the legendary coach was cremated with that trademark tweed cap and coat in place, former Mumbai captain Amol Muzumdar took some time to recall a story from his teenage days.
“I was standing in the nets and a new boy joined us. Sir said, ‘Amol, teach him how to complete a round of the ground. I started explaining, ‘Take a left from Bengal Club, go forward, you will reach Bharat Club, go straight from there…’ Suddenly, Sir said, ‘It’s such a simple thing and you are taking so much time to explain. Complete the round like you would do in a temple’. That line, I still remember: ‘The cricket ground is your temple, whatever you have to do, you have to do it there’,” he said.
With Tendulkar, Kambli and Amre on one side, and Chandrakant Pandit, Balwinder Sandhu and Sameer Dighe seated in the hearse, it was time for one last round of Shivaji Park. The hearse was taken to Kamat Club nearby where Achrekar first became “Achrekar Sir” before he brought Shivaji Park on the world map and Dadar the station that every cricketer wanted to arrive at.
For the last time, Tendulkar bowed to touch his coach’s feet, with flowers in his hands and a fistful of mud from the Shivaji Park pitch. And, as thousands turned up to join him in paying their last respects, Muzumdar summed it up.
“Look at the difference he made to so many people here. His presence was always there, otherwise why would so many of them come,” he said, before slowly walking back to his car.
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