The passing away of Hemant Kanitkar, one of Maharashtra's cricket heroes, came as a shock. Having played club and first-class cricket with him, he was not only a senior well wisher, but also a mentor to me. Hemant was a selfless cricketer, always ready to support and spend hours in helping anyone seeking his guidance. To all of us youngsters in our formative years, he was a pillar of strength and the person we turned to for advice.
Also Read: Former Test cricketer Hemant Kanitkar passes away
Hemant Kanitkar reads a newspaper during a break in a domestic game. Pics/mid-day archives
Hemant was a perfect cricketer. He was always very tidy, similar to his batting. He had an astute cricketing brain, who analysed the situation and read the conditions perfectly. A fabulous captain to play under, he was always cool and collected and never ruffled. He conveyed his thoughts, when we faltered, without aggression and anger. He had an expressionless demeanour that stood him well, even when we played rummy.
His greatest strength was his temperament and patience to play a long innings. Once Hemant was set, getting him out needed something exceptional from the bowler. A team player to the core, he took up wicketkeeping so that the Maharashtra side could accommodate an additional bowler.
Hemant was unlucky not to have played many matches for India, especially after scoring 65 on debut against the mighty West Indian side led by Clive Lloyd in 1974-75. He played the ball extremely late and specialised in the late cut. Lloyd underestimated his ability to play the shot consistently against his rampaging fast bowlers. He extended his slip cordon , but Hemant had him scratching his head, racing to a well constructed half century.
Although we had several significant partnerships, the one against Karnataka in the 1975-76 Ranji Trophy quarter-final at Bangalore where we both got hundreds, was the most pleasurable one. We put on 252 for the third wicket. The reason being that he seemed more concerned about me getting to the three-figure mark than himself.
The other remarkable performance along with him was against Mumbai. We needed to bat the whole day to draw the match. Hemant played his innings showing grit, technique, temperament and unbelievable patience to remain not out and save the day.
Maharashtra was fortunate to have his service not only as their legendary cricketer, but as a member of several of their cricket committees after his retirement. For us, former Maharashtra cricketers, Hemant was a teacher, a colleague and a lifelong ally. RIP my friend!
The writer is a former India all-rounder
Matches: 2, Runs: 111, Highest: 65, Avg: 27.75
Matches: 87, Runs: 5006 Highest: 250, Avg: 42.78