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Brightly fade the Dons of Mumbai cricket

It’s a bleak time for Mumbai cricket with the loss of two stalwarts Madhav ‘George’ Mantri and Vithal ‘Marshall’ Patil who passed away in the space of little more than a fortnight.

They played for the same club (Dadar Union Sporting Club) and lived within walking distance from each other at Dadar (East). They also gave discipline a good name.

Their deaths attracted rich tributes and with those lines, came stories which should one day be compiled in a book.

Madhav Mantri (left) and Vithal Patil were indeed legends of Mumbai cricket. In discipline, determination and dedication, they topped the class. File pics 
Madhav Mantri (left) and Vithal Patil were indeed legends of Mumbai cricket. In discipline, determination and dedication, they topped the class. File pics

If after-dinner speeches were as common in India as they are in England and Australia, former cricketers from this city would be in great demand. When the stories are not funny, they are inspirational and vice versa. I loved the story which Ravi Shastri related at coach Patil’s condolence meeting at the Wankhede Stadium last Saturday, for which the Mumbai Cricket Association deserves kudos for organising.

A day before a big inter-collegiate game in the late 1970s, a bowler (Sanjay Kohli), who was out of favour because he was irregular at Patil’s net sessions, was questioned for arriving late for a practice session one morning. He told Patil that he was busy doing a commercial shoot, and pulled out a page to prove that he modelled for some leg wear.

After being restricted to only fielding duties in the build-up to the final, on match eve, he asked skipper Shastri whether he was in the final XI. Shastri told his maverick teammate that he wouldn’t play unless someone gets injured. The disappointed bowler then asked for a new ball to bowl in the Matunga nets, and vowed to injure someone to force his way into the team.

He did just that and sent middle order batsman Shailendra Kiritkar to hospital with a head injury that required five stitches. And just as Shastri got ready to accompany the wounded player to the nearby Sion Hospital, coach Patil said to him: “That Kohli fellow deserves a place. He swung the ball and I liked his attitude.”

Another story that tickled was how the semi-new balls which Patil carried with him for the final, were stolen by one of his players. Those balls were very precious to him, and he probably never learnt who the real ‘culprit’ was. Patil was not known to smile or laugh often, but Sanjay Manjrekar said he did have a sense of humour.

One of the many Patil-related anecdotes I heard was about what he said after he noticed a cricketer waiting for his girlfriend at a bus stop near Podar College: “If he spends the same amount of time at the crease, he will be a much better cricketer.”

Shishir Hattangadi, then former Podar and Mumbai captain, said his coach was not the unapproachable man he was made out to be. Hattangadi remembers Patil loving all kinds of music, and presented him with pop music cassettes from his club tours to England.

Mantri was probably the more serious of the two, but at Khar Gymkhana in 1995, I saw from close quarters how delighted he was to see a cricketer whom he had picked for Mumbai many years ago, smash the bowling in a veterans’ competition. When the batsman returned to the pavilion, Mantri congratulated the player and even mimicked the way he lifted the ball. That indicated how happy he was and how much he appreciated good cricket.

He could be humoured, too. On arriving in England for the 1952 tour, the BBC interviewed the Indian cricketers and asked each of them their educational qualifications. Mantri was at touching distance of a teammate, who when his turn came, answered, “MA”. After the crew left the scene, Mantri went up and asked him why he bluffed the journalist. “Indeed, I am an MA Metric Appeared,” he shot back.

Mantri was feared; and any admonishment from him would have to be taken seriously. During a function at the Cricket Club of India several years ago, a cricketer’s wife chose Mantri to talk her brew-loving husband into leading a less indulgent life.

From one end of the room, I saw Mantri waving his finger to indicate his displeasure. It was a masterstroke by the lady. The word legend is often used carelessly. But, Mantri and Patil were indeed legends of Mumbai cricket. In discipline, determina-tion and dedication, they topped the class.

Clayton Murzello is mid-day’s Group Sports Editor

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