After battling alcohol addiction, Eknath Solkar's brother now coaching young cricketers
Most parents were left wondering when our lensman clicked pictures of their children’s coach. It had never happened in the last 15 years. Who is he? Is he someone special? These would have been some questions that the parents would have asked as they whispered among themselves. It is only when you hear his last name – Solkar – that you sit up and take notice. For, Anant is the younger brother of India’s legendary close-in fielder late Eknath Solkar.
Former first-class cricketer Anant Solkar coaching kids at the United Cricketers pitch in Cross Maidan earlier this week. Pic/Suresh KK.
After just 26 first-class matches, Anant’s cricketing career abruptly ended when he was only 30. The Ranji Trophy match between Baroda and Maharashtra in 1980-81 at Moti Bagh Stadium was his last match. He ended with 63 wickets and 628 runs. His first-class career took off with Railways from 1971 to 1976 and later moved on to play for Maharashtra from 1977 to 1979.
Vilas Godbole, who got Anant back to cricket
“I performed decently against Baroda (4, 36 and 0-34), but I was dropped for the next match against Mumbai (Bombay then). Eknath, who was part of the Mumbai team, was furious that I was the 12th man. He spoke to Ramesh Borde and other Maharashtra officials. After the match, Eknath told me to stop playing cricket. I quit cricket immediately,” the 63-year-old says with regret. “I think it was a wrong decision. I should have continued playing, but he was my elder brother and I respected his decision.”
Sharad Rumde, who got Anant back to cricket
Cricket was his life. And when that opportunity was taken away, Anant went astray. He found solace in alcohol. “I don’t know what happened. There was nothing left in my life after cricket. I was slowly becoming addicted to it (alcohol). My day would start and end with it,” says Anant, who now resides in a humble dwelling in Bandra after his Chira Bazaar house went under redevelopment in 2001.
Things went from bad to worse for Anant. His 15-year-old daughter passed away in 1986 due to blood cancer. A year later, Anant quit his job at Tata Electric. “Nothing was going right for me. There were times when I had no money to even travel. At times, I would have no food during the day. I was in bad company as well. My friends would pay for my drinks,” he says.
Eknath Solkar gives catch practice to his younger brother Anant. Pic courtesy/Eknath Solkar.
After all, who wouldn’t love to tag along with the brother of a famous India cricketer? “Eknath would often tell me to quit drinking. My wife and son too told me the same thing, but I just wouldn’t listen,” recalls Anant. Thanks to a modest job his wife managed to get, it helped the family stay afloat. The alcohol addiction went on for more than 15 years, affecting his speech and leaving his body frail. His liver was badly damaged. The doctors had even issued a final warning to “immediately” stop alcohol. But his situation remained unchanged.
That’s when United Cricketers club owner Vilas Godbole and the club’s caretaker-cum-coach Sharad Rumde volunteered to put Anant’s life back on track by giving him a coaching opportunity at Cross Maidan. Slowly and steadily they brought him out of addiction. Since 2007 Anant has not touched alcohol.
Rumde was disheartened to see Anant sitting amongst the drug addicts at a corner of Azad Maidan drinking alcohol. “That wasn’t an ideal place for him. I thought I should pull him out from here. I urged him to come to our practice sessions and train the boys. Initially, he would just sit. But later on, he started getting involved with the boys,” says Rumde.
Godbole in his book My Innings in Mumbai Cricket writes: “Anant was a very good all-rounder. He was an outstanding fielder. Many who played with him felt Anant was a more talented cricketer than Eknath.” Anant still rues the four dropped catches and a stumping chance off his bowling during a North Zone versus Marylebone Cricket Club match at Gandhi Sports Complex, Amritsar in 1972. Solkar went wicketless and conceded 50 runs in 16 overs in the first innings and did not get to bowl in the second innings.
“I would have got into the Indian team had the catches of (Tony) Greig, (Keith) Fletcher, (Barry) Wood and Pat (Pocock) were taken. A stumping chance was also missed,” recalls Anant. Fletcher went on to score unbeaten 120 and Wood scored 54 in the first innings. Greig scored 54 in the second innings as the match ended in a draw.
Godbole and Rumbe helped Anant get umpiring assignment in local matches in 2001. But in 2009, his umpiring stint also ended abruptly after a controversial decision. “Some people felt I gave a wrong decision because I am a bevda (drunkard). My decision was correct, but I was immediately removed from umpiring,” a crestfallen Anant says.
Now, a fit-again Anant is keen to change this perception of the cricketing fraternity towards him. “Before I die, I want to produce at least one cricketer who is gutsy as me. I tell the boys to always look to get runs on every ball. I tell them it is not necessary to always defend a good length ball. Ek run toh aana he chahiye (at least try to get a single). No opportunity should be wasted. I am ready to help the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) in their cricketing activities.”
The most startling fact is that Anant does the coaching for free. “Now, everything is on track. My son is well placed with a firm. I get pension (Rs 15,000 per month) from the Board (Board of Control for Cricket in India). I don’t come here for money. Cricket is my passion and I want to give back something to this game,” he says.
Life has come full circle for Anant. It was cricket which threw his life upside down, and it is this very game that has given him a new lease of life. Such is the irony of life.
Anant Solkar: Career highs
. His 396 and 6-28 remains the best all-rounder record in inter-school cricket. Anant, playing for Maratha High School, created the record in a Harris Shield match in 1968 versus Hume.
. Anant claimed 8-100, his best first-class figure during Railways vs Delhi Ranji Trophy match in 1972-73 at Karnail Singh Stadium.
Hemant Kenkre (former Mumbai University cricketer and Solkar’s teammate at Tata Electric)
I first met him at LR Tairsee nets at PJ Hindu Gymkhana. The legendary Vinoo Mankad was our coach and Anya (as he was fondly called) was one of our seniors. He was an outstanding cricketer, one of our heroes. Anant is a fighter. He had the potential to change a game in quick time. I still remember the way he smashed India bowler Shivlal Yadav, who was playing for Syndicate Bank, during an Arlem Trophy (inter-corporate) match in Goa in 1981. I am happy that he is finally out of the addiction mess and back on the cricket field. There is a lot to learn from him.
Karsan Ghavri (former India pacer who had many on-field duels with Solkar while playing for Nirlon)
He was a very talented cricketer and a very skillful off-break bowler. He was as gutsy as his elder brother Eknath. I remember during a match at PJ Hindu Gymkhana, one of my bouncers hit him on his head, but Anant stood there and scored a sparkling half-century. It is unfortunate that because of many distractions in his life, he could not make full use of his potential. I am glad to know that he is into coaching. I wish him and his family well.