Clayton Murzello: Dishing out a quarter and more
Mobin Shaikh (right) supervises a bowler at the Mumbai Cricket Association’s Summer Vacation Camp at Ambarnath recently. Pic/Datta Kumbhar
"Miya, our coach at the Bhiwandi Centre does not want to continue. Will you coach there?" It's been 26 years since Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) managing committee member and future president Ravi Savant sowed the coaching seed in Mobin Shaikh's cricketing life.
Mobin was no coach, but he took up the challenge and embarked on his fruitful journey of being a MCA Summer Vacation Camp coach in the distant eastern suburbs, which are rich in cricketing talent. Today, Mobin proudly says he had a hand in the emergence of cricketers like Pranav Dhanawade (who scored 1009 runs during an inter-school match at Kalyan in 2016), Usman Malvi, Rohan Raje, Tushar Deshpande, Sagar Mishra, Aquib Shaikh, Manish Rao and Harshal Soni. Whatever Mobin lacked on the coaching front when he started his summer camp in 1990, was made up by his sizeable club cricket experience.
The doors to 'A' division club cricket opened for Mobin when former India swing bowler Balvinder Singh Sandhu played against him at Ambarnath in the 1980-81 season. His eyes light up while recalling those early days. "Ballubhai (Sandhu) asked me if I would play 'A' division cricket for Rajasthan Sports Club and there was no way I could say no. I joined the club as a wicketkeeper-batsman and straightaway made my 'debut' in the Purshottam Shield final against the Cricket Club of India (CCI).
"Kiran Ashar (former Mumbai wicketkeeper-batsman) was 'keeping for CCI and at the end of the match — which we won — he comes to me and says, "Achha keeping karte ho.' I didn't know then that Kiran had played for Mumbai, but as a young man starting out in the tough world of Mumbai club cricket, those words were a tremendous boost," recalls Mobin.
How did you take up wicketkeeping, I ask him. "We played tennis ball cricket near a dirty pond (in Kalyan). Whoever retrieved the ball from the pond that was behind the wickets, got a chance to bat earlier than others, so I volunteered to be the wicketkeeper and enjoyed the first chance to bat."
He served Rajasthan SC for nearly two decades as a player and ended up in the Dr HD Kanga Cricket League record books as the wicketkeeper with 200-plus dismissals.
Like most Mumbai cricketers of bygone eras, the Kanga League was his best-loved tournament. For Mobin, it meant leaving his Kalyan home at 6 am and getting to the ground well on time for a 10 am start. Early risings were also necessary when he was part of the special nets in the early 1980s, conducted by former batting stalwart Dilip Sardesai at Wankhede Stadium. "Many a time I had to wait outside the stadium gates for the security man to let me in. Sardesai Sir had a big impact on me. I still remember him telling us, 'If you are good, you will be good anywhere no matter which team you play for.' I remembered these words when I got offers to play for bigger clubs and other states. I owe Mumbai a great deal and I was grateful for the opportunities Rajasthan SC gave me. Had it not been for my club, I wouldn't have got a job at Central Bank; I wouldn't have learnt good values," he says.
Mobin (53) reckons the Indian Premier League (IPL) is a distraction for young cricketers turning up for summer nets. He says, "The boys are not focused because they are up watching IPL games the previous night and have to report at 6:30 am for my camp. Obviously, they want to be part of the IPL some day, but I always tell them, "Don't watch IPL, work so hard so that you can play in the IPL, and you have to be fresh to work on your game.'"
It's people like Mobin who keep Mumbai cricket alive, and their word should count for something. Like when he urges the MCA to conduct camps in October/November involving the same boys who get coached in the summer. For 26 years, he has been waking up early every summer and conducting camps at Bhiwandi, Kalyan and Ambarnath. He couldn't have done it without the support of his employer, Central Bank of India. He is also grateful to the MCA for giving him the responsibility to coach youngsters in a vibrant talent hub.
Mobin looks to emulate the dedicated coaches Mumbai has been blessed with over the years. "Their dedication was matchless. Despite his old age, the late VS Patil Sir used to visit Kalyan to check how summer camps were being conducted. Mumbai cricket has lost out through their passing," says Mobin.
That he represented Mumbai at the under-19 level is one of the last things he will tell you. During one of the games, he was asked by his team's coach to give up the big gloves for a promising wicketkeeper. He calls it a sacrifice, but has no regrets for obeying the coach, whose good intentions couldn't be doubted. The privilege of playing with and against some of Mumbai cricket's finest names was never lost on him. The sight of Sunil Gavaskar and Dilip Vengsarkar from behind the stumps mesmerised him. Keeping wicket to the swing of Sandhu got his competitive juices flowing, and his long, contemplative train journeys home to Kalyan helped give him the conviction that he had chosen the right profession.
Mobin can be as proud of his 26-year coaching stint as he is about his playing career. Mumbai cricket needs more men with such passion, dedication and, of course, longevity.
mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org