Goodbye Guru! Ramakant Achrekar's students pay tribute to their coach
Umpire Suresh Shastri and India's 1983 World Cupper BS Sandhu, one of the earliest students of Ramakant Achrekar, turn back the clock on their coach
The late Ramakant Achrekar produced the greatest name in the modern game, but to credit him with just that would be like saying Sachin Tendulkar's only achievement was scoring those two amazing ODI hundreds against Australia at Sharjah in 1998.
It is hard to keep Tendulkar away from Achrekar's cricketing journey, but let's do that for a moment to highlight what Achrekar did for other cricketers too. Some city cricket pundits reckoned Vinod Kambli had more talent than Tendulkar. He couldn't live up to his promise at the international level, but who is to say he wasn't a top player for Mumbai. When one thinks about the great left-handers who wore the lion-crested Mumbai cap, Ajit Wadekar and Kambli come first to mind.
Legion of cricketers
Ajit Agarkar is an Achrekar product. So are the late Ramnath Parkar, Balvinder Singh Sandhu, Chandrakant Pandit, Lalchand Rajput, Pravin Amre and Paras Mhambrey. Achrekar funded the Pandit household to an extent and for a while. In exchange, Achrekar wanted to call the shots in Pandit's cricketing career. And when Amre felt it was too much of a struggle to find a permanent place in the Mumbai team, Achrekar advised him to join the Railways. Amre made a Test debut hundred in Durban on the 1992-93 tour of South Africa as a Railways player.
As Achrekar leaves them, each of his students will have a favourite memory. Shastri was probably his first student to play first-class cricket (for Rajasthan). Playing for Indian Gymkhana in the late 1960s, the left-arm spinner dismissed Achrekar, who was representing New Hind SC in a Purshottam Shield match. After the game, he asked Shastri which school he played for. Shastri said that he was planning to shift from Matunga Municipality School to Dayanand Balak Vidyalaya.
Achrekar, who wanted to coach a team, approached Dayanand Balak and began coaching them in 1969-70. When the school team lost the Giles Shield to Balmohan, they were taken to Purohit Hotel at Churchgate for dinner. "He was coaching for free and yet he treated us to that meal. And he always had loose change in his pocket to give his students, recalled Shastri. Achrekar used to arrive at New Hind SC (before he shifted base to Shivaji Park) well before his trainees. One morning, the Dayanand Balak students were surprised to see their coach missing. Shastri rushed to Achrekar’s Dadar West home to check what had gone wrong. He was told that Achrekar was on his way to the nets and had got late because he lost his new-born son. Shastri returned to Matunga only to find Achrekar at the nets. He mustered courage to ask his coach why was he at nets on the day of a bereavement. "I lost a son, but I have to attend to my other sons too,” Achrekar replied. Achrekar was an uncompromising coach, but he wanted his students to be comfortable off the field. Shastri remembered travelling with Achrekar to an orphanage in Mankhurd which housed one of his less fortunate students and ensured the kid cricketer was well looked after.
Sandhu highlighted Achrekar's commitment. "He was totally unselfish and sadly that is lacking in today's world." Achrekar knew when to let go of his hold on the students.
"He was open to having his boys coached by other coaches, especially the bowlers. But he would ensure his boys would get opportunities. I wondered why I was bowling 20-25 overs in limited overs cricket before I discovered that Achrekar Sir's instructions to the captains were to bowl me till I got exhausted," Sandhu recalled.
I repeat, it's hard to keep Tendulkar out of Achrekar's cricketing CV. A kaleidoscope of memories will dominate the master batsman's mind today and one can bet those scooter rides from Shivaji Park to Azad Maidan won't be forgotten. Achrekar's solitary first-class game (for State Bank v Hyderabad Cricket Association in the 1963-64 Moin-ud-Dowla Cup) didn't figure in Wisden, but Ramakant Achrekar was a virtual cricketing bible which countless cricketers carried in their kitbag..
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