Clayton Murzello: The forgotten Joe of city cricket
He not only guided Ajit Wadekar, but also a legion of Mumbai players who have contributed to today's landmark of 500 Ranji games
In the build-up to Mumbai's 500th Ranji Trophy match, which will be played at Wankhede Stadium today, I wondered who Mumbai's first coach was. From all indications and conversations with those who have followed Mumbai cricket for ages, it emerged that the late PK 'Joe' Kamat was the one.
According to Sudhir Naik, who led Mumbai to a memorable Ranji Trophy triumph in 1971, when Ajit Wadekar & Co were in the West Indies, Kamat was only their fielding coach; brought in on the recommendation of Wadekar.
PK 'Joe' Kamat (second from left) applauds as Shishir Hattangadi (far left) receives an award from then Mumbai Cricket Association chief Madhav Mantri at Wankhede Stadium in the 1988-89 Ranji Trophy season. Pic/mid-day archives
Mumbai's 1970-71 Ranji Trophy team photograph does not have Kamat in it, but the balding former Mumbai batsman is seen in the 1971-72 Ranji-winning team photograph, sitting besidecaptain Wadekar with the Cricket Club of India pavilion in the background. Kamat's name should have been more synonymous with Wadekar. It was under Kamat's guidance that Wadekarprospered at Ruia College, not having played the game at school level.
Kamat's coaching efforts were rewarding before and after helping produce a fine left-handed batsman and successful captain for India. "In 1971, Kamat used to arrive from his Bank of India office after we were done with our batting and bowling sessions. For the next hour, we were given the most innovative and strenuous catching practice. The more you dropped, the more you got at practice and I don't remember any of our fielders spilling catches in matches during that season. It was all because of Joe," recalled Naik.
Incidentally, no one can really tell for sure why Kamat was nicknamed Joe. In those days, some of the regulars at Dadar Union Sporting Club, of which Kamat was an integral part, had nicknames. Madhav Mantri was George; Vithal Patil was Marshal; General was the name given to Suresh Tigdi and Suresh Sawant was called Frankie. George and Frankie could have been inspired by West Indian greats Headley and Worrell, but Joe for Kamat had nothing to do with Solomon,whose throw from square-leg helped cause the first tied Test in cricket in 1960-61. However, like Solomon, Kamat was an extraordinary fielder. Sunil Gavaskar wrote in Sunny Days that Kamat was a brilliant fielder in any position and took some amazing catches at gully. He also touched upon how Kamat split his palm while catching Budhi Kunderan, got it stitched and was back at gully for the same game.
Local cricket followers say that you had to watch Kamat all the time at gully because there was every chance you'd miss one of his catches if you blinked. He was an aggressive opening batsman, having played for Mumbai in 18 Ranji Trophy games, and ended up with two hundreds. Those close to him feel he should have been given more opportunities. Kamat played in era in which overly aggressive batsmen were not exactly welcome. Kamat could well have suffered because of his flamboyance.
His teammates say he endured more nervous times than an average player. "I was his teammate at Ruia College and you could never tell what Joe wanted before going out to bat. Sometimes it would be a cigarette or snuff. But once he got out there in the middle, he was brilliant," former Test stumperChandu Patankar tells me.
K Satyamurthy, an Indian Gymkhana player and a close of friend Kamat's, is very clear about two of his best batting sights on a cricket field. "For me, one was Joe and the other was Salim Durrani. You just couldn't take your eyes off them."
Limited opportunities for Mumbai hurt Kamat, but he found satisfaction in coaching. Anyone seeking his cricketing expertise was invited to the Indian Gymkhana for a chat. He even coached in Chennai and there was an opportunity to help young cricketers sharpen their skills in Sri Lanka as well.
Former Mumbai and Tamil Nadu batsman SankaranSrinivasan remembers one of Kamat's methods called 'tiring practice,' where trainees had to retrieve a flurry of balls without a break. It left them breathless but it had a positive effect on their fielding and catching. In Srinivasan's one and only Ranji Trophy game for Mumbai in 1978-79, he fielded at short-leg despite Eknath Solkar being in the side. He took a splendid catch in that position to send back Baroda's RanjitHazare off Ravi Kulkarni and Solkar was mighty impressed. "Ekki couldn't stop applauding my effort, but I could do that only because of Joe Kamat's training," says Srinivasan.
Kamat later accompanied Mumbai teams as manager. In fact, he was manager in Sachin Tendulkar's debut season and opening batsman Shishir Hattangadi remembers him pulling out an old willow from the attic and presenting it to young Tendulkar because he thought a lighter one would be a better option. He could have been wrong, but his passion was right on point.
He had a great sense of history and adored his idols. Satyamurthy remembers Kamat walking back home after an evening party, along with some friends. One of them wanted to empty his bladder under a tree at Dadar East but Kamat raised an alarm and discouraged him from doing so because the tree was near a house where former India wicketkeeper DD Hindlekar lived.
Only a few from the cricketing fraternity could keep in touch with Kamat after he stopped managing Mumbai teams in the 1980s. He kept to himself and drifted into the sunset. He passed away in June 2010, at the age of 80.
He may not have coached any of the Mumbai players who take the field in Mumbai's 500th Ranji Trophy match today, but Kamat meant a lot to Mumbai cricket. As Hattangadi says, "Our cricket thrived on Joe and their ilk. A lot of Mumbai's strength, inspiration and culture came from Joe's tribe. They played cricket unconditionally and watched success and failures from the last seat in the house."
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