"It is under-19, so if a 10-year-old wants to play, let him," said Vijay Merchant in the 1980s when a young Sachin Tendulkar tried to get into one of the four teams for the inaugural Shatkar Trophy. The four selectors — Abdul Ismail, Eknath Solkar, VS Patil and Ramakant Desai — were apprehensive to include the young Tendulkar in their respective sides. But, Merchant’s word made the difference and Tendulkar played.
These were one of the many anecdotes shared during Merchant's 104th birth anniversary, commemorated by the Legends’ Club at the Cricket Club of India (CCI) on Monday. Dr Makarand Waingankar and former India batsman Madhav Apte took the audience back in time to remember the legendary batsman.
Merchant is remembered for his legendary feats with the bat and his tenure as India selector, where his faith in youth reaped rewards with success in West Indies and England in 1971. However, Apte shared a little known fact. “Women's cricket was encouraged by Vijay Merchant, Raj Singh Dungarpur and Arvind Apte. He was the founder of women’s cricket in Mumbai,” Apte said.
Waingankar narrated an incident from the 1970s, when Merchant called him and a few others, who watched maidan cricket regularly, to his office. Bombay (as Mumbai was known then) faced a crisis as the core of their team was on national duty and they needed recruits to fill the gaps. “I must say I haven’t watched a lot of maidan cricket,” Merchant said and asked them to pick their 15 for Bombay’s next Ranji Trophy assignment. “He never had any ego,” said Waingankar as he reflected on that moment. It requires humility from a great cricketing figure to enlist the help of others to make a big decision.
Apte had an interesting tale from his young days. Before his Ranji Trophy debut, he wasn’t in the Mumbai squad despite scoring heavily in local cricket; such was the strength of that side. “Few days before the first match, he [Merchant] injured himself in the nets,” said Apte as he was ushered into the side to replace the great batsman. Once Apte got a century on debut, Merchant said, “Since you have a young opening batsman, I don’t need to play.”
Merchant’s humility left an indelible mark in memory of people who were fortunate to meet him. It wasn’t only the cricketer but the man who was remembered. Not many sportsmen manage to leave that legacy behind. Apte summed it up when he said, “He was my guru. He made me achieve whatever I could. That is why I have a very special place for him in my memory.”