The BCCI honoured Ajit Wadekar (left) — captain of the first-ever Indian team to record series victories in the West Indies and England in 1971 — with the CK Nayudu Lifetime Achievement Award
The BCCI honoured Ajit Wadekar (left) — captain of the first-ever Indian team to record series victories in the West Indies and England in 1971 — with the CK Nayudu Lifetime Achievement Award


By Sidhanta Patnaik


Ajit Wadekar’s legend as an Indian cricketer and his overall contribution to the game is etched for perpetuity. He was the first captain to lead India to a Test series victory in the West Indies and England in that famous year of 1971, he was India’s first One-Day International captain and he was one of the finest No 3 batsmen of his times. On that account he must have been a cult figure, an opinion leader and must have been privy to a host of peripheral luxuries in his prime.


Wait! Am I going a bit overboard considering that 1970s were a time when India was swallowed up by a sense of inferiority complex and was overawed by the westerner’s way of doing things? But as the leader of the maiden series win in England does he not qualify as a pioneer in helping India break through of that mentality? Considering that today India is one of the brightest stars of the global economy, could his influence in the socio-economic environment be measured in parallel terms to that of Sourav Ganguly or Mahendra Singh Dhoni?


Such questions can lead to a confused mind and subjective inferences from the archive are not an accepted approach for the cricket watchers of this seeing-is-believing age of instant gratification. One can only speculate. We have heard about his glories from past cricketers, we have read about him in books published by respected authors and have listened about his influence from credible historians. We have also taken note of his astute opinions on critical matters but we have not seen him play. Take out a handful of fanatics who are truly here for the love of the game, most of the young followers must not have caught a glimpse of the innumerable re-runs of the 1971 England Test match win that is played on Star Cricket’s ‘India Glorious’ programme, our sole tangible connect with the past. Thanks to the media influence, inadequate information on web search portals about a past genius has the power to sway us to conclusions that might not be right always. Wikipedia sums up this man in just 375 words. He might not be that important is what many would be thinking.


For all his contributions he is best remembered by the present youth as a master backroom strategist of the Mohammad Azharuddin-led Indian team of 1990s when dominating at home with the aid of spin became a fashion. And for those born after the 1996 World Cup he must be just a name in the history books. In that aspect the night of December 10, 2011 was instrumental in giving Ajit Wadekar a face among the youth.


When he received the CK Nayudu Lifetime Achievement Award, which consisted of a citation and a cheque of Rs15 Lakh, the unique character of an awards ceremony came alive – to bring the past and future on the present platform. All of a sudden the connect was evident with a man who is now into his 70s. Hearing Sachin Tendulkar, Sunil Gavaskar, Ravi Shastri paying their compliment to Wadekar and then seeing him on the stage gave a sense of his accomplishment and influence in the cosmos of Indian cricket. Now there will be an occasion to relate to and hence responses would be appropriate while judging how big Ajit Wadekar was.


Financial crisis for players of his era is a story often told and Rs 15 lakh is a handful. It can help him clear a few bills, pay a few loan instalments, make some wise investments for his future generation, take care of his medical requirement but Saturday night was not a single bit about the money. After all he was high-ranking banker and must have done enough justice to his balance sheet to have access to adequate amount of amenities for the remainder of his life. So when he said “I’m overwhelmed”, he did not mean the money but the appreciation – a vital cog in any sportsperson’s existence. To be recognised 37 years after retirement by the home board and receive a standing ovation from his fellow mates and millionaire juniors is a blissful moment. A chill must have run down his spine. Beyond that there are no words to be describing the feeling.


In that journey of few seconds from his seat to the stage the glow he emanated is a simple reason for a sportsperson’s existence. In that walk he would have relieved all those days of glory when his every run and move on the field reached the ears of the fans through the radio transmitter.


In that one moment it struck us that Indian cricket might have made a significant transition from the limitations of radio commentary days to the present fortune of online telecast of BCCI’s awards night, but the foundation laid down by the cricketers of that era is timeless. And who better than Ajit Wadekar to be at the centre of this thought.


(Sidhanta Patnaik is a sports marketing professional, public speaker, part time writer. His twitter id is @sidhpat)