At one point in time, Madhav Mantri was Mumbai cricket’s Don Corleone in some ways. When he walked into a room, people stood up. When he decided that something was good for city cricket, it was implemented. No questions asked.
Sunil Gavaskar pays his last respects to maternal uncle Madhav Mantri at the former India batsman-wicketkeeper's Dadar (East) residence yesterday. Pic/Satyajit Desai.
Mantri passed away last morning at 92 and is now no more India’s oldest living Test cricketer. That he lived long shouldn’t be a surprise because he didn’t have any vices and was always known to follow the ‘early to bed, early to rise’ dictum. He was a no-nonsense sort of a cricket person, but in no way unapproachable. He always honoured invitations to functions as long as they didn’t clash with his bedtime.
Madhav Mantri with Dilip Vengsarkar at an under-13 tourney held in Matunga where Mantri was chief guest on March 14. Pic/Uday Devrukhkar.
He was never late for anything and legend has it that Hindu Colony residents set their watches going by the time Mantri set out to work. Even after his retirement from the Associated Cement Companies (ACC), he continued to serve Indian Education Society and Saraswat Co-operative Bank. And he made time for cricket.
His memory didn’t desert him. He never tired from relating the story about Sachin Tendulkar being disappointed at being given a rest for some side games on the 1990 tour of England. Mantri, who was team manager on the tour, remembered Tendulkar pleading with him to be played against Derbyshire because he wanted to combat West Indian Ian Bishop, one of the fastest bowlers in business then. Tendulkar was sent in at one-drop and blasted an unbeaten 105 as India beat the county by two wickets two days before the ODI series.
Sanjay Manjrekar tweeted yesterday about how Mantri watched every ball of that tour. At domestic and Test matches at Wankhede, especially when he was president of the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA), Mantri used to arrive well before the first ball and occupy his seat in the front row of the MCA managing committee enclosure.
What is Mantri without Dadar Union Sporting Club? Rather, what is Dadar Union without Mantri? He instilled the kind of discipline among his teammates that drew up a road map for their careers. Dadar Union’s rivalry with Shivaji Park Gymkhana (SPG) ran deep. SPG, say old timers had a more cavalier approach to the game and Dadar Union were always proud of their army-like attitude.
Mantri’s contribution to cricket after he hung up his cricket boots is more documented – Mumbai and India selector, mentor, MCA president, India team manager et al. As player and captain at the first-class level, he was a formidable player but figured in only four Tests. In 42 Ranji Trophy games for Mumbai, he scored 2787 at 50.67. He took 65 catches and effected 21 stumpings. In the 1948-49 Ranji Trophy final against Maharashtra at Pune where a total of 2376 runs were scored, he plundered 200 in victors Mumbai’s first innings.
Fortunately for India, his appetite for runs rubbed off on his nephew Sunil Gavaskar, who once as a child, gathered courage to ask his maternal uncle if he could have one of his India pullovers. He was promptly told that he would have to earn it. Madhav Krishnaji Mantri must be thanked for that refusal and a lot more.
How Mantri got back at his critic
Vasant Raiji, who is India’s oldest living first-class cricketer at 94, sent mid-day this message after learning about the death of his former Mumbai teammate: “I am sorry to learn about the passing away of Madhav Mantri. I have many happy memories of my association with him. Mantri’s debut in first-class cricket was spectacular. When he was first selected to play for Mumbai (then Bombay) in 1941 a cricket critic criticised the selection by describing Mantri as a “new fangled idea of a wicketkeeper.” He silenced his critic with a spectacular debut having a tally of nine victims - five stumpings and four catches.
200: Mantri's score for Mumbai in the 1948-49 Ranji semis vs Maharashtra