An ode to Dilip Sardesai

Shishir HattangadiGoa was known for its ‘suse gad’ attitude. The outlook still exists. Growing up in Goa one cannot avoid being in touch with fish, football and feni, the local brew.

Dilip Sardesai must have revolutionised that mindset. Moving to Bombay and making an impact in the cricketing bastion of India in those days was a special achievement. 

Small town boys can get overawed by the maximum city, but in Sardesai’s case, Bombay was only ancillary to run-making and cricket. Needless to say, the impact he made at the university level got him recognition to play against Pakistan in the early 1960s for the President’s XI.

Interestingly, he was in the standbys to play Test cricket the same year before he actually played for Bombay. The cricket played in those days was qualitative. Top players were available and special talent was easily noticed. Performing with or against them made a serious impression. Sardesai was a product of that romantic era.

My generation of cricketers did not see Sardesai play, but the 1971 series win in the West Indies told us he had a huge role to play despite the emergence of a world-class player on that tour. Sunil Gavaskar’s arrival and India’s second Test series win abroad somewhere diluted Sardesai’s contribution, but he was christened Indian cricket’s Renaissance Man by another legend of Indian cricket - Vijay Merchant.

Dilip Sardesai
Dilip Sardesai talks to then Mumbai player Amit Pagnis in the 1990s. Pic/MiD DAY Archives

Saardee maan is what people called him after that tour. He was also one of the protagonists of Bombay’s dominance in the Ranji Trophy, never to have lost the competition in all those years he played (1960-61 to 1973-74). When one wins so consistently there is a touch of nonchalance and aura of supreme confidence that can make opponents submissive.

Saardee often made batting look easy in the way he spoke. It’s probably the way he played in his pomp, so for him to expect it from others was natural. He loved playing cricket - watching it or talking about it. He spoke with conviction when he said, “Shall I tell you something... he’s got a faulty technique” or “He is good.”

I haven’t heard many contest his judgment but have seen him walking up to a player and saying, “You surprised me, I didn’t expect you to do
well.”  Gracious as he was in being proved wrong, at times, it took a lot to convince him when he had an opinion on technical drawbacks of a player.
His memorial lecture today is an annual feature.

It is a fitting tribute to a man that loved the game, its evolution and of course his endless discussions on the men and the game past, present and
future. His contemporaries will remember him for his earthy sense of humour, one-liners and simplicity. Romantics and his near and dear ones will be regaled by memories of him. Through his memorial lecture, cricket lovers will reunite just for him and the love of the game.

One anecdote from my memory bank that stands out is when Ravi Shastri and I were trying to make something out of our cricket careers. Walking off, after being shown the door from a crowded under-22 selection trial, Sardesai met us at the entrance of Wankhede Stadium. “In or out?” he enquired. “Out,” we replied.

His next words changed a lot of things in Ravi’s life, I suspect. They were: “No one can stop you from playing even if you are dropped. Make yourself heard loud and clear with your performances.” Ravi played for Bombay the same year and was on the flight to New Zealand to play for India the following season.

It is fitting that Ravi, a fine cricketing mind, will be delivering the memorial lecture this year because somewhere through design, default or destiny Sardesai’s words were heard loud and clear by the tall man.

* Shishir Hattangadi is a former Mumbai Ranji Trophy captain. 

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