During this time of the year in his heyday, Vithal 'Marshall' Patil would be looking forward to his pet tournament — Dr H D Kanga Cricket League. Today, he is set for his final journey.
Vithal Patil in 2013
Patil passed away at his Dadar East residence yesterday at 89 due to old age. He was last seen by some members of Mumbai's cricketing fraternity at a memorial service held to mourn the death of his mentor Madhav Mantri on June 1.
The Kanga League is synonymous with the success of pace bowlers and there was no one more successful than Patil in the League — 759 wickets for his good old Dadar Union Sporting Club, who won many a game thanks to this stalwart.
He never boasted about his record tally, but was quick to remind you that he also got 10 wickets in an innings against Shivaji Park Gymkhana in the Talim Shield. Yet, he played only two Ranji Trophy games for Mumbai. Those were the days when rich performances in local cricket didn't guarantee you a Ranji spot.
Discipline was very much part of his persona. It only became pronounced when he played under Madhav Mantri at Dadar Union.
Vithal Patil in full flight during the 1950s. Pic courtesy: Vithal Patil's personal collection
When Mantri entered the room at the Bombay Gymkhana at a function to celebrate the veteran coach a few years ago, one could safely assume that it was a great moment for him. He was not lost for words: "Madhavrao," he exclaimed, "your disciplined ways helped me in my coaching. Thank you."
Before joining Dadar Union in 1952, Patil played for another club which he promptly left despite the knowledge that he would not be an automatic choice at the Matunga club. "A senior player used to take hours to return from lunch and I remember another chatting up his girlfriend on the boundary line," Patil had said once. He last played for Dadar Union in 1984.
Coach Patil helped the likes of Dilip Vengsarkar, Ravi Shastri, Sanjay Manjrekar and a flock of first-class cricketers emerge through his coaching at the Podar College nets.
Manjrekar and Vengsarkar were at Patil's residence yesterday. Out-of-town Shastri, who felt fortunate to have met his coach a few months ago, told mid-day: "He was a thorough disciplinarian more than a coach. He made sure you knew that there was no shortcut to success in anything you did. A real champ!"
Manjrekar was regularly in touch with his coach and was one of the first to reach his residence. "Patil sir and me connected on many levels. Like me, he too was a hard man to please. Not many people know he had quite a sense of humour," said Manjrekar.
Many a great batsman succumbed to Patil's medium pace guile. Dismissing Ajit Wadekar or Dilip Sardesai gave him a special thrill. "A genuine exponent of swing and a great mover of the ball has gone.
Indian cricket is the loser… RIP," said Wadekar, who clashed with Patil in Mumbai cricket's answer to the Battle of Roses (Lancashire vs Yorkshire) — Shivaji Park Gymkhana vs Dadar Union.
Vilas Godbole, who played alongside Patil at Dadar Union, remembered how two accomplished Test batsmen decided to bat lower down the order in a club game to avoid facing Patil with the new ball. He got them dismissed nevertheless with the old ball.
Patil's coaching service to Mumbai cricket was whole-hearted and complete. He coached women cricketers too, some of whom were at his home yesterday.
He welcomed visitors at all times. Former first-class cricketers Mazhar Ghadially and Rajesh Sanghi, who were always there for ailing Patil, should know. A planned 30-minute visit would go way beyond their deadline as it were and he would talk cricket for hours. They enjoyed it.
In his last few years, his television set was his best companion when he was alone. He had good reading taste too – Australian cricket writers Jack Fingleton and Ray Robinson, and swore by Don Bradman's Art of Cricket and Farewell to Cricket.
Patil played no small role in Sunil Gavaskar's development before he coached the batting icon's son Rohan at Podar. Gavaskar wrote in Sunny Days: "If there is one man, who has taken a great deal of interest in my cricket and encouraged me at every step, it is Marshall.
Often, he would drop in at our house late after dinner and say, 'Sunny, century tomorrow.' I think he had more confidence in my cricketing ability than I had myself."
Vithal Patil's funeral will be held at 9 am on Thursday (June 12) at Shivaji Park crematorium
The number of wickets Vithal Patil claimed in the Kanga League — a record