Ajit Wadekar was an Indian cricketer who played for the Indian national team between 1966 and 1974. Described as an "aggressive batsman" and "the original captain cool", Wadekar made his first-class debut in 1958, before making his foray into international cricket in 1966. He batted at number three and was considered to be one of the finest slip fielders. Wadekar also captained the Indian cricket team which won series in the West Indies and England in 1971. The Government of India honoured him with the Arjuna Award (1967) and Padmashri (1972), India's fourth-highest civilian honour.
In picture: Ajit Wadekar with wife Rekha
Ajit Wadekar's father wished him to study Mathematics so that he could become an engineer, but Wadekar instead preferred to play cricket. He made his first-class debut for Bombay in 1958–59, before making his international debut in Test in December 1966, against the West Indies at the Brabourne Stadium in Bombay. He became regular in the team and went on to play 37 Test matches for India between 1966 and 1974, generally batting at number three.
Ajit Wadekar was appointed the captain of Bombay, and soon was made the captain of the Indian cricket team in 1971, leading a side that included players like Sunil Gavaskar, Gundappa Viswanath, Farokh Engineer, and the Indian spin quartet that included Bishen Bedi, E.A.S. Prasanna, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and Srinivasaraghavan Venkataraghavan. He became the first Indian captain to achieve overseas wins while touring the West Indies and England in 1971. India won over five matches in the West Indies in the early 1970s, and then defeated England over three. He led India to a third successive series victory, beating England cricket team again, 2–1 in a five-match series in 1972–73.
Ajit Wadekar continued as captain of the Indian team that toured England in 1974. He represented India in its first-ever One Day International (ODI) game during that tour. Wadekar made 67 runs but still ended on the losing side. He made scored 73 runs in his ODI career at an average of 36.50 with a strike rate of 81.11. Following India's dismal performance in the series, he retired from international cricket. After that tour, Wadekar played just one more First-class match before retiring from all forms of cricket
After retirement, Ajit Wadekar served as the manager of the Indian cricket team in the 1990s, which was then captained by Mohammad Azharuddin and also became the chairman of selectors. He is one of the few Indians to represent the country as a Test player, captain, coach/manager and the chairman of selectors. Lala Amarnath and Chandu Borde are the only other players to achieve this distinction
In picture: Sandeep Patil, Ajit Wadekar and Sachin Tendulkar
Ajit Wadekar was honoured with the Arjuna Award, instituted by the Government of India to recognise sporting talents. In 1972, he received the Padmashri, India's fourth-highest civilian honour. Other awards include CK Nayudu Lifetime achievement award, Sportsperson of the Year, and the Castrol Lifetime Achievement award.
In picture: Ajit Wadekar with Sunil Gavaskar
Ajit Wadekar’s childhood friend Vilas Godbole in an interview with Mid-Day recalled the former India captain’s childhood days on Wadekar’s 75th birthday. Godbole said, “I know Ajit since our childhood. Both of us stayed at Shivaji Park and played tennis ball cricket together. Ajit was the captain of our team when I joined Ruia College. He was also at the helm when I was selected to represent Bombay University. His statistics, particularly at the international level (2113 runs in 37 Tests), never did justice to the quality of his batting. He was a far superior batsman — very stylish and spectacular. His drives were sharp and he would rank very high among batsmen who played wristy shots.”
In picture: Ajit Wadekar with Sachin Tendulkar
Ajit Wadekar’s childhood pal Vilas Godbole added, “In those days, Mumbai’s batting line-up was so strong that Ajit would normally bat at No 6. He would be promoted to No 3 if the match was played on matting or if it was a difficult pitch to bat on. Ajit never let the side down on such occasions and did full justice to the confidence reposed in him by his seniors. Incidentally, he is the only player who figured in all the 15 consecutive victorious Ranji Trophy seasons for Mumbai.”
Vilas Godbole went on to say, “Ajit’s leadership qualities were known to all since his college days itself. It was under his captaincy that India had series wins in West Indies and England in 1971. The entire cricket world was taken aback by India’s stupendous performance. Ajit was an intelligent captain. Even in the most difficult situations, he would remain calm and composed. He was a firm believer in preparing well. He would hold a meeting of all the players and plan out the team’s strategy after taking into consideration their suggestions. The good part was that he always had a contingency plan in case the original plan misfired. And thus, one rarely found him caught in a helpless situation. It is no wonder that he did remarkably well even as a manager and coach of the Indian cricket team.”
In picture: Ajit Wdekar holding a large-sized Don Bradman portrait
After Wadekar's death on 15 August 2018, Farokh Engineer, in a beautiful tribute to his former captain Ajit Wadekar, wrote “The pinnacle of his captaincy career was the series victories over West Indies and England. I was not part of the team in the West Indies but after the Oval Test win over Ray Illingworth's England which I played a role in, he insisted that I come to India with the rest of the team for whom a big welcome was planned. Ajit pleaded with me and also wanted me to be an integral part of the homecoming celebrations, but I was committed to play for my county Lancashire.”
Farokh Engineer revealed, “Ajit and me used to often exchange notes and he always consulted me on moves that he made as captain. We go back a long way —right from the time we played against each other in inter-collegiate cricket on the maidans of Mumbai. He was a shrewd captain, but he was such an underestimated batsman for some reason. Basically, a front foot player, his crisp play was beautiful to watch. Surely, he had the game to score more than just one Test century (v NZ in 1967-68).”
In picture: Ajit Wadekar with wife Rekha
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, remembering Ajit Wadekar after the former India captain’s demise, tweeted, “Ajit Wadekar will be remembered for his rich contribution to Indian cricket. A great batsman & wonderful captain, he led our team to some of the most memorable victories in our cricketing history. He was also respected as an effective cricket administrator. Pained by his demise.” (Sic) (In picture: Ajit Wadekar with Lata Mangeshkar at an event)
In picture: Ajit Wadekar is seen in a jovial mood with former India team-mate Sunil Gavaskar.
In picture: Former India captain Ajit Wadekar introduces Sunil Gavaskar to Queen Elizabeth during the 1971 Lord’s Test against England. P Krishnamurthy, Kenia Jayantilal and Syed Kirmani look on as Gundappa Viswanath awaits his turn.
Ajit Wadekar was known to be close to team-mate Sunil Gavaskar during his international and domestic career. The left-hander regarded Sunil Gavaskar as one of the all-time best batsmen that the sport has ever seen.
In picture: Sunil Gavaskar with Ajit Wadekar
Former Indian cricket captain Ajit Wadekar, passed away at the age of 77, on August 15, 2018, in Mumbai, after a prolonged illness. On his first death anniversary, we bring you some exclusive pictures that showcase the best moments of the Indian cricketing great, Ajit Wadekar
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