Pravin Tambe: Life begins at 42

Rajasthan Royals teammates Ajinkya Rahane (left) with birthday boy Pravin Tambe. Photo courtesy – Sarang Bhalerao.

Pravin Tambe turned 42 on October 8, 2013. Sarang Bhalerao caught up with the birthday boy and talked to him about his journey as a cricketer so far and his aspiration.

He is the new sensation. His bowling and the ability to take wickets have been the talk of the town. He epitomises the maxim ‘Life begins at 40’. If at all, he resembles red wine: getting better with age. He is occupying acres of newsprint and online space hitherto occupied by the blue-eyed boys and legends of Indian cricket. All of a sudden there is an overflow of epithets eulogising him. Life has been one rollercoaster ride for Pravin Tambe, whose perseverance has made him achieve stupendous feats post 40. His success lies in the simplicity; no extravagance is seen either in his bowling or his behaviour.

On Tuesday, at a private function organised at the JA Meghani Memorial English Primary Hall, Mulund (a suburb in Mumbai), everybody was eagerly waiting for birthday boy Tambe to arrive. The stage was festooned with balloons. There was a banner in the background which had two photos of Tambe. The image on the left was of the leg-spinner whose face was akin to a pugilist celebrating after delivering the knock-out punch and clinching the bout. Indeed, that was the case in the recently-concluded Champions League Twenty20 (CLT20) competition. The picture on the right was of Tambe looking skyward asking someone to be quiet. “Congratulations Pravin Tambe (PT),” was the text that stood out. Below that it was written in Marathi Gheun Tak (conquer them). Hordes of well-wishers were anxiously waiting for their hero to come.

The interesting thing was that the birthday boy had no idea what was in store for him. No sooner did he arrive in his black bandgala, there were firecrackers all around. He was pleasantly surprised to see so many people in the hall. The expressions on his face were priceless. He was welcomed with a traditional tika. After walking a few paces inside the hall he discovered that there was a rangoli that had the Rajasthan Royals’ logo.

The walk from the main entrance to the bedecked stage had a lot of pit stops. Tambe sought the blessings of his elders who had specially turned up for the momentous occasion. It took Tambe 10 minutes to finally reach the stage. People took turns to come and personally wish him. The local municipal corporator came with a huge bouquet. Tambe’s brother Prashant announced that Ajinkya Rahane is also specially coming for Tambe.

In walked Rahane amidst the crowd of small children and enthusiastic adults. “He is the first Test match player I am seeing,” quipped one person. The two Mulund residents, Rahane and Tambe, won the Golden Bat and Golden Wicket award in the CLT20 2013. Rahane’s 10-minute presence added glitter to the occasion.

There was a slideshow. The soundtrack accompanying the slideshow was Aashayein from the film Iqbal. Pravin’s journey as a cricketer was seen in the five-minute video clip. There was a portion in the clip where Tambe, who is playing in the maidaans of Mumbai, tosses the ball with copious amount of flight. The ball is above the eyeline of the batsman which draws him out of his crease. The ball dips and cleans him up. Seeing that the members in the hall whistled, clapped and cheered for Tambe. Numerous paper cuttings featured Tambe’s exploits with the ball.

In the end, Tambe’s journey with the Rajasthan Royals was shown, including all 12 wickets from the CLT20. The part which aroused maximum applause was when Tambe hoodwinks the Highveld Lions. The part where he received the Golden Wicket from Rajeev Shukla is the last portion of the video that encompasses Tambe the cricketer.

This was surreal for the Tambe family. “I am proud of my son. I am in the seventh heaven,” said Pravin’s mother, Jyoti, who hopes her son would continue to make the Tambe family proud. In walked Tambe’s cricket friends. One of them is Nitin Madhavi. Madhavi, along with Tambe, coached in Mumbai’s Excel Academy. “Tambe sir and I stress importance on overall development of the wards: Fitness, batting and bowling,” said Madhavi. Currently, Tambe is busy playing cricket all over so he cannot come to the academy.

So what is Tambe’s story? What got him into cricket? Father Vijay said: “Pravin used to accompany me when I played for Johnson and Johnson. He developed interest in the game watching me play. He used to think about cricket non-stop. There was a lot of passion in him since childhood and even today his intensity has not dropped one bit.”

Not many would know that Pravin was a fast bowler. Vijay said, “Pravin used to bowl fast but once Ajay Kadam, his captain at the Orient Shipping, asked him to try and bowl spin. Pravin bowled leg-spin and got wickets. He has never looked back since.” Tambe represented Orient Shipping from 1994-2004. He was part of Shivaji Park Gymkhana team where his leg-spin impressed Sandeep Patil as well. “Sandeep Patil rated Pravin’s flipper highly,” he added. The delivery got rid of Dwayne Bravo in the CLT20 semi-final at Jaipur. “He almost invariably gets a wicket of that delivery,” said Vijay. In 2004, Orient Shipping stopped the cricketing activity. “I lost my job there but moved to DY Patil [Academy],” recalled Tambe.

On talking about Pravin as a cricketer, Vijay recalled the time when Pravin’s team clinched the Raj Kapoor Trophy in Chembur. “It was a tennis-ball tournament where the fall of every wicket was celebrated by the loud noise of the band. I think it was in 1996,” said Vijay. “It was 1998,” Pravin said with a smile. Nostalgia caught up with him.

At 41 years and 212 days, Tambe was the oldest IPL debutant. One wonders what must have gone through the mind of the cricketer. Tambe said, “I am passionate about the game. I have always played the game for enjoyment. I was not worried about anything. My aim was just to bowl the right lengths.”

On being asked about Rahul Dravid, Tambe said, “When I had gone for my selection trials in Jaipur he (Dravid) liked the way I bowled in the practice games. He supported me a lot and gave me all the confidence needed. For him it didn’t matter how old I am, he believed in my bowling and it helped me to deliver for the [Rajasthan] Royals.” Tambe hired a trainer only after the end of IPL 2013. “Regular fitness routines and weight training helped me immensely,” he said.

Tambe has been a regular member in the Liverpool League cricket in the United Kingdom. “I have been part of Prescot & Odyssey club, Rainford cricket club and St Helens Recreation in Merseyside in England. In 10 years, I have picked up 634 wickets and scored close to 7,500 runs.” On being asked about the number of centuries he scored, Tambe said, “Five. I can bat. Everybody in the Mumbai circuit knows that.” Surely he is not a mug with the bat. In the semi-final of the Times Shield against Tata Sporting Club in 2012 he stitched a 143-run alliance with Kshemal Waingankar for the final wicket which proved to be match-winning.

There is a message written on his t-shirt:

Prashant:

You should be very proud of your brother.

There is a signature below.

“James Faulkner signed this jersey for my brother Prashant,” said Tambe.

In February this year, Tambe was in Mumbai’s squad for the Vijay Hazare Trophy. But he didn’t feature in any of the game. What is his immediate goal? A Mumbai cap? Tambe said, “My job is to keep performing and enjoying the game. I do not think much about the result. Things will fall into place if I keep giving performances.” Vijay added, “My dream is to see Pravin donning the India colours.” Is it too late for him to realise that dream? “It is not impossible,” he said tersely.

If Tambe keeps producing mesmerising spells and outwitting the batsman then anything is possible. He is sanguine about his prospects of playing cricket. Reputations do not bother him, occasion doesn’t baffle him. For Tambe it is just a matter of bowling right line and length over and over again.

(Sarang Bhalerao hails from a family of doctors, but did his engineering. He then dumped a career in IT with Infosys to follow his heart and passion and became a writer with CricketCountry. A voracious reader, Sarang aspires to beat Google with his knowledge of the game! You can follow him on Twitter here)