From the early 1970s to mid- 1990s, Dilip Vengsarkar was an integral part of the Kanga League. For most of those years — after shifting from Matunga Gymkhana —Vengsarkar played the league only for Dadar Union Sporting Club, who were called kings of Mumbai cricket.
Indeed, he played alongside the best in business during those 22 years — Sunil Gavaskar, who like Vengsarkar, lived near the Matunga club that over the years boasted of names like Madhav Mantri, Subhash Gupte, Naren Tamhane, Ramnath Parkar — and in later years, Sanjay Manjrekar and Jatin Paranjape, the former India ODI player whose father Vasu was a popular captain in the 1970s.
Vengsarkar swears by his best-loved league that Dadar Union won 12 times in the ‘A’ division between 1951 and 1988 before witnessing a steep fall following encroachments and other administrative lacuna. Thanks to Vengsarkar, Dadar Union is taking steps to regain its past glory. Now, the club can look forward to a pavilion and six quality pitches.
SUNDAY MiD DAY caught up with Vengsarkar last week at the Shivaji Park Gymkhana:
On the unique tourney:
As you said, it’s a unique tournament played in monsoons. A different kind of atmosphere with uncovered pitches makes it more attractive. This has been a bowlers’ tournament throughout and batsmen have always found it difficult to score unless they played unorthodox shots. It also prepares you well for a new season. There is the fun element too.
His choice of best batsman, bowler in his time:
As a batsman, I would say Ramnath Parkar. The repertoire of shots he had was just amazing — the Rohan Kanhai falling sweep, hook, pull, Parkar had everything in his armoury. But it’s hard to chose among the bowlers as there are many with impeccable records. The likes of VS Patil, Urmikant Mody, Vikram Dutt, Ramesh Rajde are names that come to my mind instantly for their consistency in the league. Padmakar ‘Paddy’ Shivalkar is one, who achieved great success. He got 94 wickets one season (for Shivaji Park Gymkhana in 1972) which was a fascinating performance by any standard.
On his coach and Dadar Union teammate Vithal ‘Marshall’ Patil (759 career wickets in KL):
He was amazing. The fact that he played the league for more than 40 years is itself a great achievement. I remember him breaking the record of Parsee Cyclists’ B R Irani’s 743 career wickets.
On Vasu Paranjape, his first captain at Dadar Union:
Vasu was a good motivator and I benefited a lot from him during the early stage of my career. I always remember the values and discipline that this club inculcated in me in my younger days. Not only me, the club provided the right lessons to many of us.
On Dadar Union’s slump:
In the last 15 years or so, the club wasn’t being looked after properly and not many came forward to save its legacy. Thus, it was relegated to Division C. The structure was dilapidated and it came to a stage where tennis ball cricket started flourishing there. The time had come to take some initiative. So I started taking interest to revive it. I also got support from others in this venture; few lent a helping hand even on the financial front. Now, there’s a nice pavilion coming up and I have prepared six competitive pitches.
On what caused him to take the onus on himself:
First and foremost, the loyalty factor. I wanted to give something back to the club which has given me so much. It provided the platform for me when I was very young. That sense of gratitude forced me to come to the rescue.
On whether Dadar Union can regain its past glory:
I hope so. At one time, this club used to win ‘A’ division titles regularly, but now it has been relegated to C division.
The young boys who are playing for the club should take it forward. My message to those youngsters is to work hard and not take any shortcuts like many are doing these days. Sooner or later, Dadar Union will be back where it belongs.
On talk about KL being discontinued:
Discontinuing this league is far off. I don’t even agree with Mumbai Cricket Association’s decision to delay the tournament this season. It was scheduled to start on July 15, but that didn’t happen. Since we had a delayed monsoon, we missed quite a few matches. Now, it will run till October. By delaying it, the whole purpose is defeated.
On how the Kanga League has helped Mumbai cricket:
All Mumbai greats have come through this grind and so they knew how to face adversity. This league is partially responsible for making Mumbai a hub of accomplished batsmen. After playing local cricket, (read Kanga League) a batsman knows how to survive on difficult wickets anywhere in the world. It makes you tougher, both in skill and on the mental strength front.
On whether he would recommend a tournament of this sort to be played all over India:
Absolutely! It would hugely benefit batsmen. One more important factor is, this being club cricket, there is no age bar and you get to play with seniors and learn from them.