Mumbai: Former India captain Ajit Wadekar said he got initiated into cricket during his college days and then got into the Indian team due to the support he got from Madhav Mantri who died here this morning.
"It was Mr Madhav Mantri who encouraged me to play cricket when I was in Elphinstone College. There were already some Ranji Trophy players in the team and I was included to play some friendly matches. He was a strict disciplinarian," said Wadekar while reacting to the former Test wicket-keeper's demise at a local hospital.
Ajit Wadekar. Pic/ Atul Kamble
Wadekar recalled how it was through Mantri's insistence as a member of the national selection panel that he got into the team led by the late Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi against Gary Sobers's visiting West Indian side in 1966.
"Pataudi and the other selectors were not in favour of me being included but Mantri convinced 'Tiger' that I would be an asset. Finally during the selectors' lunch he convinced Pataudi who then persuaded the other selectors to include me and that's how I got in," Wadekar said.
Wadekar recalled the well-known local inter-club rivalry between his Shivaji Park Gymkhana and Mantri's Dadar Union Club and praised the latter for not holding a grudge against him for representing a rival club. "He supported me more than Baloo Gupte, Sharad Diwadkar and Vasu Paranjape, probably because of the number of catches I had taken against his side and because I used to make a lot of runs against (Dadar Union's top bowler) V S Patil," the former India batsman said.
He also said how Mantri had provided the impetus for his nephew Sunil Gavaskar to take to the game and it helped him immensely in creating history in 1971 in the West Indies when the "Little Master" scored a record 774 runs in his debut Test series. "That was his (Mantri's) best present to me," said Wadekar with a laugh.