Keep honouring your heroes
MCA's decision to name an area in the North Stand after club cricket campaigner Dilip Vengsarkar is apt, considering local cricketers sat and watched from that end of the Wankhede Stadium.
As much as I was dismayed that the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) is yet to honour Ajit Wadekar with a stand/gate/enclosure at the Wankhede Stadium despite it being over two years since his demise, I was delighted to learn that a section of the North Stand will bear the name of Dilip Vengsarkar.
The location of the honour seems so very apt, considering it was in the North Stand where the maidan players sat to watch international cricket at the Wankhede Stadium.
As the cricketing fraternity of Mumbai is well aware, Vengsarkar has been a campaigner for quality club cricket. And he walked the talk. For, he was only too happy to assist Dadar Union Sporting Club whenever he was available, never mind if it was on return from an overseas tour; just like Sunil Gavaskar did for the same institution.
It is also remarkable that Vengsarkar played Kanga League 'A' division cricket only for Dadar Union — from the early 1970s to the mid-1990s. Some example of club loyalty!
While chatting about club cricket the other day, Vengsarkar told me, "If given the opportunity, I would still like to play a Kanga League game…but on the maidan!"
His association with Dadar Union dates back to his days of adolescence.
He hasn't forgotten his early steps there and neither has Vilas Godbole, the former Mumbai opening batsman, who used to play for Dadar Union in the early 1970s. Vengsarkar didn't figure in the Dadar Union playing XI during the limited overs Talim Shield competition in whose final, Godbole had scored a century. The following weekend, Dadar Union were slated to play a Purshottam Shield game. Skipper Vasu Paranjape was in a quandary as to whom to drop to include young Vengsarkar. Noticing Paranjape's anguish, Godbole offered to sit out but insisted that Vengsarkar must play. Godbole's reasoning was sound: "Another hundred won't secure me a place in the Mumbai Ranji Trophy squad, but a fine performance by Dilip would catch the selectors' eyes." Thus, Vengsarkar played the game, scored 70 odd against the pacy Pandurang Salgoankar (according to Pradeep Vijayakar in the 1976 edition of Indian Cricket annual) for Dadar Union to pocket yet another title in local cricket.
While Vengsarkar remembered that the attack comprising Salgoankar and one-Test man Ajit Pai, cricket writer Makarand Waingankar wrote in his book, Guts & Glory how the opposition wicketkeeper stood on the "practice plot close to the boundary on the northern side" considering Salgoankar's pace.
Vengsarkar hasn't forgotten Dadar Union skipper Vasu Paranjape's gift for being the team's man of the final — a Mehtab Special bat, a popular piece of willow way back in the early 1970s.
It's been a while since Dadar Union won the premier division pennant in the Kanga League. They last triumphed on that stage in 1988, the very year Vengsarkar was captain of India. He turned up for the club's August 28 game against neighbours New Hind SC determined to help his team log their first points in the tournament after their previous game against arch-rivals Shivaji Park Gymkhana was abandoned without a ball being bowled.
The New Hind attack was put to the sword by Vengsarkar, who cracked an unbeaten 126 which included 14 sixes on the Matunga ground. The outstanding innings was not enough for Dadar Union (171-3 declared) to earn a win as New Hind finished the day with 39 for four. Interestingly, Salgaonkar was still playing the Kanga League. On the same day of Vengsarkar's hundred, the Maharashtra fast bowler claimed a hat-trick for Dahisar CC against Shantibhai Memorial in the 'C' division of the League.
Pace bowler Vikram Dutt, who has the distinction of claiming all 10 wickets in an innings for Dadar Union in the 1982 edition of the Kanga League, recalled how captain Vengsarkar happily gave him the field that he wanted — no mid-on, no mid-off, but a short midwicket as he ran through the Rajasthan Sports Club batting order to claim 10 for 20. "Dilip was tremendous and kept urging me to bowl them over. I also remember how he — and we as a team too — were upset when one of our Kanga League opponents declared only at tea time, which left us very little time to win the game. Dilip was furious and he went out there and slammed a brilliant hundred.
Unfortunately, we had to settle for a draw," Sharjah-based Dutt, who represented Uttar Pradesh in the Ranji Trophy, told me yesterday.
I had the good fortune of watching Vengsarkar encouraging his Dadar Union team from slips in a tight Kanga League 'A' division game against Rajasthan SC 30 Septembers ago at Cross Maidan. Vengsarkar's ex-India teammate Balvinder Singh Sandhu (3-44) and his fellow pacer Satish Pawar (5-24) had bowled out Dadar Union for 85 earlier in the day. You could never rule out the former kings of Mumbai cricket when it came to defending low totals. So, backed by some fine fielding, Ramesh Rajde (6-15) and Ajit Puthran (3-36) bowled out Rajasthan for 64. A chuffed Vengsarkar asked Rajde to lead the team back to the Karnatak SA tent. Rajde, an enduring Dadar Union performer, stepped back and asked Vengsarkar and Sanjay Manjrekar to lead the way. "I remember that match vividly. It started late [due to wet conditions] but we still managed to pull off a win. Ramesh was a good bowler and a team man to the core," Vengsarkar told me. They don't make club cricketers like Rajde anymore. He passed away in 2005.
The MCA has done well to plan a fitting honour for Dilip Balwant Vengsarkar at Wankhede Stadium. Nothing should stop them from doing the same for a certain Ajit Laxman Wadekar.
mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello
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