Vithal Patil (88) sits in his living room barely 12 inches before his television set watching an old cricket match. The former coach admits to an eyesight problem, but those who know him well can vouch for his penchant for watching every move in a cricket match closely. That probably explains the proximity.
Patil has no family to live with. His brother Mahadeo and sisters, Yamuna and Nalini are no more. The right hand that claimed a record 759 wickets in the Kanga League would have been decorated on Raksha Bandhan day had Yamuna and Nalini (expired three years ago) been around. Yamuna lived with him and gets spoken about in glowing terms. “I miss my brother and sisters a lot. I miss my sisters very much on this day.
They would tie a rakhi on my hand. Yamuna like Nalini was not only kind but very generous as well. If she noticed someone who sold her groceries at the market place with a torn sari, Nalini would donate one of her nice ones. She never took utensils in exchange from the utensil dealer when he came over to collect old clothes.
I have accompanied Nalini sometimes to the nearby Tata Memorial Hospital where we used to give away old clothes to needy people,” said Patil. The former Mumbai player, who had an influence on players like Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar, Ravi Shastri, Sanjay Manjrekar and a host of first-class players through his long coaching stint at Podar College and playing for Dadar Union SC, reckons Mumbai cricket is not making the progress it should.
“There is a problem on the coaching front and I have been noticing this for many years. When Frank Tyson was here (to improve Mumbai’s fast bowling stocks in the early 1990s), he asked me to help with an examination for coaches. There were 38 coaches who appeared for that test and 30 failed. Mind you, you needed only 50 per cent to pass.”
The new format devised for the Kanga League does not meet his approval. “I can understand the League being pushed forward by a month, but a September start doesn’t appear right. I would prefer the July start. I am told matches will be held over the weekend. I wonder whether cricketers will get leave to be at the games on Saturdays,” he says.
It’s all up there
Patil is convinced that current players can benefit merely by watching the established players on television. “I don’t think players are thinking much. I will give you an example of thinking and working out things on your own. Many years ago, I happened to be with Hanumant Singh and we decided to go to the Wankhede Stadium where 15-year-old Sachin Tendulkar was practicing.
I went and stationed myself in the umpire’s position to get a closer look at this batsman. I remember a left-arm fast bowler — Abhijit Tatkar — bowling to Sachin, who was constantly edging his deliveries. Sachin stopped batting for a few minutes, thought for a while and then never had any problems while facing him. He, in those few minutes, had worked out how to deal with the bowler.”
Patil has seen his college and club players getting all sorts of advice from bigger names. “It is good to seek advice. But I used to always tell my boys to try out what people say and then decide for yourself if it is good for you. Bowlers must out-think batsmen and I believe that surprise is the essence of
attack.” His enthusiasm was remarkable and this quality has stayed even in the evening of his life.
He remembers watching a bowler doing everything right while he was on his way home on a bus. Patil decided to get off and head to the National Cricket Club where the match was being held. The bowler turned out to be Zaheer Khan who Patil said then would be successful. Bachelor Patil gets a good number of visitors, mainly his former students which include Sanjay Manjrekar, Shishir Hattangadi and Rajesh Sanghi, who played Ranji Trophy for Rajasthan.
On Monday, Patil was visited by his Podar College student Anirudh Nansi. “All my students look after me well. I have no complaints. They either come or call me and I feel so good when they do.” His wobbly knees prevent him from stepping out of his home so Patil’s walking is restricted to his house.
He is a keen reader and swears by Don Bradman’s bestselling books Art of Cricket and Farewell to Cricket. And he still rues the fact that someone borrowed Ray Robinson’s Between Wickets and never returned the classic book. In a seemingly lonely life, cricket indeed is Patil’s oxygen.