Makarand Waingankar: A man who has served Indian cricket for decades with rare intensity and passion

Dr Makarand Waingankar is a well-known figure in Indian cricket, having served the sport in various capacities. Waingankar completed his doctorate in the history of Mumbai cricket this year and since launched his venture Excellence in Cricket. Nishad Pai Vaidya spoke to Waingankar about his doctorate and his long journey in cricket.

 

“You’ve got to be passionate about the game,” says Dr Makarand Waingankar, as he looks back on ten years of toil that helped him earn a doctorate in cricket. Waingankar began a long journey, delving into the annals of the history of Mumbai cricket.

“The history of Mumbai cricket is very rich. I realised that something had to be written about it and thus began my research in 2005,” he says. Ten years down the line, I had a 200,000 word long thesis on the subject.” Although the prefix “Dr” adds to one’s stature, Waingankar does not give much importance to the title. He says, “It does not matter if people add the word Dr before my name. The fact remains I did deep research and unearthed many previously-unknown facts.”

Waingankar’s work on his doctorate hit a roadblock a couple of years ago when he had to undergo brain surgery. Even though doctors advised him not to work for seven or eight months, nothing was going to hold him back. “I completed my PhD on the 150 years of Mumbai cricket. I also recently wrote two other cricket books Guts and Glory, and A Million Broken Windows: The Magic and Mystique of Bombay Cricket. (In 2012, he wrote his first book title Yuvi — encapsulating the journey of Yuvraj Singh.) It is a mindset — if I plan my week or day, I adhere to it. Even if I am down with fever, I still follow the timetable I set the previous night. Anything short of 10-11 hours of work, I won’t get proper sleep. I want to use my time for quality purpose,” he says.

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Work is worship for Waingankar; he lives for cricket and has done humungous and selfless service for Indian cricket. The doctorate is a feather in his crowded cap: a hard-hitting journalist who writes without fear or favour and against anybody and everybody — including the sacred cows, a talent scout who goes about his job with Indian cricket in his heart and as administrator for whom no job is menial and who does in doing the job than hogging the limelight.

Waingankar’s is fuelled by undiluted passion. Entertainment has no place in his life. “I did go to a movie theatre in 31 years. Then I watched Bhaag Milkha Bhaag — only because of Yograj [Singh] who was acting in the film,” he says. It was Waingankar who played a huge role in Yograj scaling the heights to wear the India cap. The two share a very close bond well over three decades. In fact, Yograj’s son [Yuvraj] stayed at Waingankar’s place in Andheri in his formative years when he came to Mumbai to train at the Elf-Vengsarkar Cricket Academy.

 

Fearless journalist

The son of an army officer, Waingankar started off as a journalist in 1969 but quit that full-time job a few years down the line. However, he continued to pen his thoughts for various publications; his most famous column being “Court Martial” in which he expressed his views fearlessly, backed by unimpeachable facts.

“My father served in the British army and inculcated high values in me. If one has the facts, then he should write about it and express his opinion —even if it’s against a friend. I was hard-hitting, but backed my criticism with facts and figures. Friends and relatives were often offended, but it did not bother me because I was just doing my job with integrity. In my 45 years in journalism, not once did I get a threatening call or legal notice,” he says with understandable pride.

On one occasion in early 1980s, Waingankar wrote against Dilip Vengsarkar, his closest friend. That column did not go down well with Waingankar’s wife, Dr Sandhya, who wrote to the editor. “I wrote that ‘offending’ article against Dilip for a Marathi magazine, and my wife responded to that by writing against me. Her article was published and given a prominent place within a box,” Waingankar recalls. Waingankar did not show male chauvinism by trying to prevent his wife from expressing her views — even if it was against him.

Administrator, mentor and the various schemes

The BCA-Mafatlal Bowling Scheme saw the legendary Frank Tyson train some of the best young talents in Mumbai. The likes of Salil Ankola, Paras Mhambrey, Abey Kuruvilla, Sairaj Bahutule and Nilesh Kulkarni, to name a few, trained under Tyson and served Mumbai cricket for years. The brainchild of the scheme was Waingankar, after conducting a painstaking survey through the city and preparing a report that convinced former India skipper Nari Contractor about its importance. Twenty five years down the line, he has spearheaded a similar bowling scheme with the aim of helping Mumbai cricket by roping in Jeff Thomson, the former Australian fast bowler.

Waingankar’s company, Excellence in Cricket, is at the forefront of conducting this new scheme, helped by IDBI Federal Life Insurance. Vighnesh Shahane, a former Mumbai cricketer who benefitted from Tyson’s coaching, is the CEO of IDBI Federal Life Insurance and has come forward to sponsor this new scheme. “We thought we will do a module similar to the BCA-Mafatlal Bowling Scheme and get talented bowlers above the age of 19. We wanted it to be a part of the MCA and to be run by their academy,” Waingankar says. For the latest scheme, he has roped in John Gloster, the former India physio, who will train and look after the youngsters.

In the past, Waingankar has served as a consultant with the Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA), the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Baroda Cricket Association (BCA) and as the chief of Kolkata Knight Riders’ Talent wing. He was also responsible for the establishment of numerous age group tournaments in Mumbai. The Elf-Vengsarkar Academy in Mumbai is also thanks largely to Waingankar’s efforts.

Waingankar is back in his role with the KSCA since last year, but it was back in the early 2000s when he came up with a revolutionary idea. Along with the KSCA, he launched the Talent Resource Development Wing (TRDW), to unearth young talent from the smaller parts of the state. Waingankar says that TRDW was carved to spot young talent. Often selectors would go by statistics in picking players, without knowing the quality of their candidate. And, there were times when politics came into play to deny players opportunities. “Can you imagine the India opening pair of Sunil Gavaskar and Ashok Mankad was dropped from the West Zone team? This was barely a few weeks after Gavaskar had scored a ton on a green top at Old Trafford against a quality English attack. You’ll find a lot of similar cases,” Waingankar says.

The TRDW was then made a national project, which helped unearth MS Dhoni. Waingankar explains, “With the TRDW, the idea was to resource and then develop it. I did that for Karnataka and within three months we found talented players from different districts. The then BCCI president, Mr Jagmohan Dalmiya, came to know about it and announced it for the country. Dilip Vengsarkar was announced chairman and Dhoni and many others emerged, thanks to TRDW. He had played four years of Ranji Trophy, but nobody had spotted him. Earlier, only the metros produced cricketers, but now they emerge from different corners of the country.”

How does one man get so many ideas for the betterment of the sport? Is it only passion or something more than the zest that keeps him going? “I get ideas because I observe systems. I observe what is going on at the grassroots level. I worked as consultant for the KSCA Academy from 2001 to 2005 and was back there last year. Such experiences teach me what problems are faced by the boys,” he says.

Beyond the offices, Waingankar has been a mentor and father figure for numerous players. A young Yograj Singh lived in his house when he represented Mafatlal in Mumbai. Yuvraj, as mentioned earlier, also spent some time as a teenager in the Waingankar household as he came to the city to hone his skills at Vengsarkar’s academy. Abey Kuruvilla was plucked out of obscurity by Waingankar and encouraged to bowl fast. In no time, he was representing Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy. Robin Uthappa spoke about Waingankar’s influence at the launch of Excellence in Cricket. These are only a few of the many Waingankar has guided over the years.

“Cricket is a game between the two ears. Your mental faculty has to be in shape and you should be able to handle pressure. A cricketer on an average spends hours in the nets and the gym, but how much time does he spend on the mental aspects such visualisation, motivation etc? Not much. Hence mentoring is required,” he says.

As the IDBI Federal Life Insurance-MCA Bowling Foundation took shape, Waingankar took a small breather. But, in no time, he was back to work. People talk about passion and zeal, but this man has taken it to another level — so much so that an entire cricketing fraternity has reaped rewards through his untiring efforts. For Waingankar, a new day is a fresh start with an opportunity to do something new. The veteran’s journey continues…

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Mumbai-based cricket journalist and one of the youngest to cover the three major cricketing events — ICC World Cup, World T20 and under-19 World Cup. He tweets as @nishad_45)

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