An aberration at Shivaji Park
At the height of their powers, Shardashram Vidyamandir’s cricket teams developed an aura based on performance and fame just like Dadar Union Sporting Club on Mumbai’s cricketing scene.
Kiran Ashar is one former Mumbai Ranji Trophy cricketer, who has witnessed both these teams’ domination — in the 1960s and 1970s as a player and in the late 1980s as coach of the St Mary’s team, which he coached to a Giles Shield victory in April 1988. As St Mary’s cleared each of their hurdles, one man dominated their look-ahead meetings: Sachin Tendulkar.
Would they be able to stop this marauding lad when they had to meet Shardashram? “I just told my boys that they must concentrate on playing well. We had the talent and momentum, but Sachin was a big factor. I tried negating it by saying we must not get overawed and just bowl good lines to him,” said Ashar (66).
Giles Shield final day dawned and Ashar didn’t have to look too closely to see a nervous lot at the Shivaji Park Gymkhana. He himself was considered a big player at the school level and once scored five hundreds on the trot for Bharda School in the early 1960s. He also knew that batting is a one-ball game.
More of one ball later. St Mary’s got it right first up when their captain Dinesh D’Souza beat Shardashram skipper Sujit Gadkari at the toss. “There were some in the team who felt we should put them in, but I emphasised that they were far more experienced than us and in a run-chase that would count. So, it was decided that we bat first,” said Ashar.
Opener Manish Shah, who according to his coach, played despite running a temperature, went on to score 170 in a total of 518. It was his first hundred in any class of cricket. Things had gone as per plan for the Mazagaon outfit with Venkat Kunnath (80) firing and D'Souza playing a captain’s knock of 73.
Shardashram were faced with a challenge, but they had the big guns to conquer Peak 518. Sanjay Manjrekar dropped in at the Shivaji Park Gymkhana to discover Shardashram were at the receiving end. In ‘Sachin Tendulkar – a definite biography’ by Vaibhav Purandare, Manjrekar told the author: “I went up to the Shardashram coach (Das Shivalkar) and asked, ‘Will you be able to chase that? He said: ‘Aapla ghoda aaha na (we have our winning horse, don’t we!)’ Just the runs separated Sachin from the others.”
Tendulkar walked into bat after two early wickets. Over to coach Ashar: “I sent a message through the 12th man that the captain should introduce our left-arm orthodox spinner Khurram Darbar because the ball was keeping low. Khurram’s job was to bowl a tight length and not allow Sachin to free his arms. No flight, no room to play his shots was the gameplan because Sachin was too good when given these opportunities.
I had seen him thriving at Azad Maidan against other teams. “In Khurram’s first over, Sachin nicked one to short leg where Sandeep Bhammar dropped a sitter. There was silence in our camp. ‘That’s it,’ I thought. ‘We’ve lost a golden opportunity.’ Later, Sachin on-drove Dinesh to the tennis courts of the Shivaji Park Gymkhana and the ball returned to where Dinesh would start his run-up.
I will never ever forget that shot and I’ve never seen such a quality stroke in all my years in cricket. But there was a twist. Khurram bowled a delivery, cramped Sachin for room and trapped him plumb leg before on the back foot for 14. There was silence all over Shivaji Park except in our camp.”
Parents and friends of the St Mary’s team were elated. For them, dismissing Tendulkar was the end of the match. This enraged Ashar, who had to ask the enthusiastic parents to behave appropriately and remind them that no match is over until the opposition was dismissed.
Over the top
“The celebrations embarrassed me. I could see parents rushing to phone booths to inform their relatives that Sachin had been dismissed. I looked at one corner of the area to find a disappointed young boy licking his wounds as it were. “I could relate to that feeling, but the look on his face just showed me how hungry and passionate he was.
And to think that he has carried those same qualities for quarter of a century is unbelievable. I wish him all the best for his 200th Test,” said Ashar. Spin had a major say in the match as Darbar claimed four for 44 and off-spinner Mohan Mahimtura 5 for 39 to bowl out Shardashram for 229. A host of players from that Shardashram team went on to play first-class cricket. Tendulkar of course, became a legend.