MCA must use men like Keluskar
Ex-Dadar Union stalwart has the experience and drive to aid Mumbai cricket at a time when the willow game needs rebuilding in the city
Uday Keluskar is no longer seen walking with a heavy kit bag on his shoulders to various cricketing venues in the city. That ended in 1996, the year he stopped playing club cricket for Dadar Union; the year his employers Mahindra pulled down their sporting curtains.
The closure of all sporting activities at Mahindra cost several sportsmen their jobs. Keluskar was lucky to keep his. He worked assiduously on his newfound interest in information technology to be more than just an asset at their Spares Business Unit, where he received a grand farewell on April 24 for a memorable innings that lasted nearly 34 years. At a time when the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) needs committed, non-conflicted individuals to rebuild city cricket, here's one who could be utilised. Keluskar, 61, is not given to boast, but he can proudly say that he played a big role in providing SAP support to as many as 40 Mahindra plants. His knowledge in computers was as hard-earned as his cricketing acumen.
Keluskar is one of Mumbai cricket's unsung heroes. Or in the words of former Mumbai captain, Shishir Hattangadi, a "good, honest, robust servant" of city cricket. He played with and alongside some of the greats in Mumbai cricket – another 'kar' in the Dadar Union line-up, which fielded Gavaskar, Vengsarkar, Manjrekar – another khadoos player in the Mahindra ranks which had an array of Mumbai first-class players. Before that, he served Central Bank of India and Mafatlal.
His cricketing journey began in 1974, when he enrolled in the MCA summer camp at Thane's Central Maidan under former Maharashtra player Anant Dhamane. While at Birla College, Keluskar played a couple of friendly-match innings against Mulund College that impressed their coach Ramakant Achrekar. Soon, Keluskar was at Achrekar's practice sessions at Sassanian CC, Azad Maidan. His day started at 4 am; he would walk three kilometres to Dombivli station, from where he would board a 5 am train to CST.
After training at Sassanian, there were either practice matches or trips to Kalyan to attend lectures at Birla College. Jhunjhunwala at Ghatkopar was an ideal college to join for cricketers staying in the eastern suburbs and Keluskar knew it would be good for his cricket. "My teachers urged me not to leave Birla, but my physics professor, Mr Barve, insisted that it would be a good move to join Jhunjhunwala. He even sponsored my railway pass. However, there was one problem. They had a wicketkeeper in their team. When they told me this, I stressed that all I wanted was to practice with them, and so I joined Jhunjhunwala," Keluskar told me.
Former India swing bowler Balvinder Singh Sandhu played for the college and so did Pravin Hindlekar, a prolific batsman, who died young. "Pravin taught us how to practice thoroughly and his sincerity stood out," remarked Keluskar with more than a tinge of regret in his voice while recalling how Jhunjhunwala lost two inter-collegiate finals to Podar.
Around the same time, Keluskar joined Sunder CC. "At Sunder, Kiran Ashar and Ramji Dharod were very supportive and then I joined Dadar Union, where the cricket education was matchless," he said. Keluskar's recollections truly reflect the great days of Mumbai cricket: "Players like me never spoke a word when Gavaskar and Vengsarkar were around but they never behaved like superstars. They were humble and lived up to the Dadar Union credo that no one is bigger than the game."
Vasoo Paranjape, that great Dadar Union torchbearer, invited Keluskar to join the club and like scores of Mumbai cricketers, Keluskar profited from Paranjape's advice. "Once, I was getting out in the same fashion, playing the flick shot. Vasoo sir took me aside and told me that my head was skywards. I then realised that he also meant I was getting carried away. I put my head down and batted. I learnt my lesson," Keluskar recalled.
His aggressive batting right at the top was frowned upon in some quarters and selectors at various levels did not like that, according to Keluskar. Once, while representing Bombay XI in the Pataliputra Invitation tournament, he hit Chemplast XI's Kapil Dev for three fours in the India star's opening over. But at Dadar Union, there were no suggestions to tone things down. Salil Shah, the club's left-arm spinner said Keluskar was a "devastating opening batsman" who opened with Sridhar Mandle, another fine batsman.
There were rewards for good performances at the club. Gavaskar, while playing for Dadar Union against PJ Hindu Gymkhana in the 1980s, offered to present a pair of imported batting shoes to the highest scorer from both teams. Keluskar, who scored 70 that day clinched the prize. Appreciation from the great opener also flowed for Keluskar's brilliant fielding at third man when Dadar Union played Shivaji Park Gymkhana at the Wankhede Stadium. "He praised me and pointed to how I fielded enthusiastically despite me experiencing the disappointment of missing a century by two runs. It felt great," said Keluskar. Values picked up over the years are entrenched in his cricketing veins. Keluskar recalled the words he spotted on a sticker at a sports store he often visited: 'CRICKET BUILDS CHARACTER.' Those shoulders that bore the weight of those kitbags are strong enough for some more responsibilities.
mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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