Clayton Murzello: Dressing room gem with a heart of gold

The late Hemant Waingankar served a legion of Indian and overseas players in the inner sanctum of the Wankhede Stadium

If there is one place cricket lovers would want to be a fly on the wall today, it’s the dressing rooms at Wankhede Stadium where India and West Indies slug it out for a place in Sunday’s ICC World T20 final.

I would have loved to refer to the rooms as the Vijay Manjrekar dressing rooms, but the Mumbai Cricket Association did not name them after the departed great batsman when the stadium was renovated for the 2011 World Cup. They probably forgot that this had to be done like they did with the gates and stands. This piece is surely not the first reminder.

Hemant Waingankar greets Vinit Indulkar after the Mumbai team returned from a successful tour of Pakistan in 2007.  Pic/mid-day archives
Hemant Waingankar greets Vinit Indulkar after the Mumbai team returned from a successful tour of Pakistan in 2007.  Pic/mid-day archives

The Wankhede Stadium’s ‘D’ Road gates at Churchgate were named after Polly Umrigar and Vinoo Mankad in 1974-75. Later, the dressing rooms came to be known as the Vijay Manjrekar dressing rooms.

The idea to keep the memory of these stalwarts alive was a noble one and I remember the late Madhav Mantri telling me that SK Wankhede, the then president of the MCA, was hell-bent on honouring Mankad and Umrigar while they were alive. Imagine how much of a feel good factor that was!

In 1991, the dressing rooms were renovated under the supervision of Dilip Pradhan with Sungrace Mafatlal bearing the costs.

The late Hemant Waingankar was the man who made that renovation possible, since he was employed by the firm. It seemed so apt because one of the areas where Waingankar served Mumbai cricket in a literal sense, was the dressing room. He took over from Vilas Godbole, who helped out from the inaugural Wankhede Test in 1975 till he became an office bearer in the 1980s.

Godbole passed on the baton of dressing room duties to the genial Waingankar, who played in the same Bombay University team as Gavaskar.

Dilip Pradhan (extreme right), Hemant Waingankar, NV Bandekar, Anil Joshi, Ramesh Kosambia, Ravi Savant (partly hidden), Bal Mahadalkar, Suresh Trivedi (of Sungrace Mafatlal)  and Mumbai Cricket Association president Madhav Mantri at the opening ceremony of the Vijay Manjrekar dressing rooms sponsored by  Sungrace Mafatlal in 1991.
Dilip Pradhan (extreme right), Hemant Waingankar, NV Bandekar, Anil Joshi, Ramesh Kosambia, Ravi Savant (partly hidden), Bal Mahadalkar, Suresh Trivedi (of Sungrace Mafatlal)  and Mumbai Cricket Association president Madhav Mantri at the opening ceremony of the Vijay Manjrekar dressing rooms sponsored by  Sungrace Mafatlal in 1991.

Gavaskar speaks from the heart about his friend Hemant’s splendid work in the inner sanctum of Wankhede: “Hemant was always somebody who cared for cricketers. He went out of the way to make their stay completely tension-free. He didn’t allow a tense situation to come in the way of anything. Along with him, you too became a little more relaxed and you could think a lot more coolly without getting into any panic situation.”

Waingankar was always assisted by Anil Joshi. Gavaskar remembers the duo being cheerful and helpful to every player in the dressing room. Of course, they were conscientious as well. According to Gavaskar, they would have, “simple things like laces, spare batting grips, also spare socks because invariably someone used to forget their socks. If someone wanted a special meal, they would ensure it arrived and they looked after the vegetarians (in the team) very well. Hemant and Anil were fantastic. Both were always ready for a laugh. When you have such cheerful people around, everybody is relaxed.”

Joshi recalls how upset the West Indies team got when they lost the October 20, 1994 one-day international, which was interrupted by rain. Suddenly, they wanted coconut water for the entire squad, but Waingankar was up to the task.

A vendor at Shivaji Park was contacted and 50 coconuts reached the Wankhede Stadium dressing room before the team left for their hotel.

Waingankar was a father-like figure to Sachin Tendulkar. “Hemant was always warm and encouraging to players. He was like a family member to me. He supported me right from my school cricket days and would invariably give me prasad from Shirdi Sai Baba temple before matches — a person full of positivity,” Tendulkar said.

Waingankar passed away in 2013, but he will be long remembered by the finest practitioners of the game...his dear friend Gavaskar, Sir Viv Richards, even Brian Lara. Joshi says he was stunned to see Waingankar escorting Lara to the masseur table as soon as the little Trinidadian entered the Wankhede Stadium dressing room after being bowled by Manoj Prabhakar for a duck in the second innings of the 1994 Test. Waingankar ignored the fact that Lara was fuming and advised him how he should be a bit more patient while batting on slower Indian tracks. “No one would have tolerated any advice, but Lara didn’t utter a word. That’s the kind of respect Hemant earned in the dressing room among players,” says Joshi.

During that series, Rohan Kanhai dropped in at Waingankar’s Nariman Point office with a newcomer to the team. They proceeded to the Oberoi Towers for a buffet lunch. Already overawed by the opulence, Kanhai reminded the player that they were breaking bread at one of the finest restaurants in India. That player went on to become a batting great called Shivnarine Chanderpaul.

Waingankar’s generosity transcended generations, ensuring that his stories will remain the stuff of legend. There isn’t a room named in his honour today, but names like his are etched in lore and must never be forgotten.

mid-day’s group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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