Mumbai’s streets were packed with fans hailing their cricket heroes on September 13, 1971, and ex-MCA Treasurer Jagdish Achrekar, who was among those countless die-hards, questions why the late skipper is yet to be honoured at the Mumbai venue
Jagdish Achrekar, the former Mumbai Cricket Association Treasurer poses with a photograph of Ajit Wadekar and members of the Indian team during the former skipper’s benefit game at the Wankhede Stadium in 1975. Pic/Rane Ashish
- The second homecoming as Wadekar called it in his book, My Cricketing Years, was special
- All Bombay seemed to have turned up at Santacruz
- 52 years ago, cricket fans thronged the streets of Mumbai to welcome Ajit Wadekar’s team
Fifty-two years ago, cricket fans thronged the streets of Mumbai to welcome Ajit Wadekar’s triumphant team which beat England on their home soil for the first time.
The 1971 series win in England was a watershed moment in Indian cricket, just like the triumph in the West Indies earlier that year. The second homecoming as Wadekar called it in his book, My Cricketing Years, was special. “I had told the boys that Bombay would outdo Delhi [the team were felicitated in the Capital the previous day] in the matter of welcoming us. But you had to be there to believe it. No foreign dignitary, no politician had ever been received thus.
“All Bombay seemed to have turned up at Santacruz. As the 737 Boeing Garuda touched down on schedule, the spectators cheered wildly, conches were blown and a police band struck up, “Welcome the conquering heroes” as I led the team down the gangway.
“I must confess there was a lump in my throat as I touched my mother’s feet and received her blessings. And there were tears of joy in [wife] Rekha’s eyes as I fondly embraced her. It is estimated that over 1.5 million people watched the motorcade as it covered the 20-kilometre route to CCI. There were posters, bunting and arches all the way. We were showered with rose petals and gulal. The most touching scene was when we passed the school for the blind at Worli. I was deeply moved and asked the driver to stop to receive the garlands of these kind enthusiasts. There were receptions galore at Shivaji Park and the CCI.”
A 14-year-old cricket-mad lad made his way from his humble dwelling in Borivli to watch the motorcade and his hero Wadekar at Shivaji Park. He went on to be a club cricketer and more recently the Treasurer of the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) before he missed out on an opportunity to serve the MCA for another term, losing by just one vote. Jagdish Achrekar (no relation to the late coach Ramakant) is now pleading to some in the inner ring of power to officially announce an honour for the departed India captain. “When the association decided to name a stand after Dilip Vengsarkar, it was also suggested that something should be done to perpetuate the memory of Wadekar. After the Apex Council agreed that the MCA Lounge (a hall) be named after Wadekar, it was placed before the Annual General Meeting. No objection was raised, but the MCA has not announced it. It’s disgraceful that a great cricket personality like Wadekar has not been honoured by his own state association, whom he also served as an administrator,” Achrekar told me earlier this week.
I asked him why he couldn’t ensure this comes to fruition during his time as Treasurer (2019 to 2022). Achrekar cited several obstacles which included the pandemic. “Had I continued as Treasurer, I would have pressed for it further. The MCA can do it in time for the World Cup. Wadekar cannot be passed over for an honour at Wankhede Stadium,” he said.
Achrekar welcomed the fact that a statue of Sachin Tendulkar is to be unveiled at Wankhede, but is astounded that MCA have chosen to deny Wadekar. “The statue is a nice honour for Tendulkar. But look where they are placing it… at the entrance of the MCA Lounge. In my opinion, this is not the right location. I think it will lack significance if placed there. The statue should be in between the Vithal Divecha Pavilion and Sunil Gavaskar Stand. If this is done, spectators sitting in the Sachin Tendulkar Stand can see the statue while watching a game. And isn’t it odd that fans heading to the Sachin Tendulkar Stand won’t be able to see the statue since their entry is from Marine Lines and not ‘D’ Road,” Achrekar asked.
During our interaction, Achrekar had to be coaxed into revealing the various initiatives he suggested during his term as Treasurer. “The open gallery at the pavilion end which was announced recently was my idea and so is the ramp for our handicapped cricket fans. I’m happy to see this happening,” he said.
There are more recommendations he made—credentials of Vinoo Mankad and Polly Umrigar at their respective gates and the naming of two overhead bridges after great Mumbai players. “Visitors to the Wankhede Stadium should know more about Mankad and Umrigar. This will enrich the knowledge of our young cricketers too. One bridge can certainly be named after Eknath Solkar. There is nothing in his honour at the Stadium. May I remind our current administrators that apart from being a great servant of Mumbai cricket, Eknath led Mumbai to victory in the Ranji Trophy in 1981 when stars like Sunil Gavaskar, Karsan Ghavri, Dilip Vengsarkar, Sandeep Patil and Ravi Shastri were on the tour to New Zealand. The other overhead bridge can be named after another cricketer of the association’s choice,” Achrekar remarked.
Doubtless, the long-delayed honour for Wadekar at Wankhede would please his family no end. To Achrekar, the move would give him unbridled satisfaction. After all, he saw the man in various avatars—thrilling the crowd at Shivaji Park Gymkhana with his hooks and cuts, the exhausted cricketer unwinding at the Gymkhana and urging a canteen worker to feed a little boy vada pav without the red chutney and of course the proud India captain acknowledging the public’s waves and chants during the motorcade on September 13, 1971.
I too hope Achrekar’s call is taken up by the MCA because as Andy Dufresne wrote to his friend Ellis ‘Red’ Redding in the great film, The Shawshank Redemption, “Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
mid-day’s group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello
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