Gentleman, cricketer and astute leader. I will fondly remember Ajit Wadekar for his ability to build relationships. He had a friendly nature and knew exactly how to get the best out of someone.
Not all captains in world cricket can claim to have that quality, but Ajit didn’t have to say it, because it was evident in the way he operated on the field. The wins in West Indies and England under his leadership are testament to this fact.
He was a great planner. Not everyone could read the game the way Ajit did. Ajit speaking to a player in a corner and giving him tips was the most common image in the dressing room. He was a great student of the game and knew the ins and outs of it. He would always have insights for his team-mates. I was the senior in the team but I still learnt so much under his captaincy.
I got acquainted with Ajit in Mumbai while we were playing college cricket. I was playing for Anjuman-I-Islam while he used to play for Ruia College. We had many match-ups together. Whenever our team came up against his there was always anxiety because we knew we were up against a formidable team led by a leader who was a cut above the rest.
Unfazed by conditions
His batting was one of sheer class. Since his young days he was notorious for never letting his wicket fall easily. Be it in seaming conditions, turning tracks or bouncy wickets, Ajit was never on the wrong foot. He always knew how to bat in different conditions. Others would watch him and learn. The adjustments he would make while batting on different wickets seemed to come naturally to him.
But it was his mental resolve that stood out the most. During our triumphant campaign in the West Indies, Ajit did not have the best of outings with the bat. He scored a couple of half-centuries, which were quite impressive in their own right, but by his high standards the scores were still low. The dip in form, though, did not faze him. He knew there was a larger goal. As a leader, he had to stay strong and keep the rest in good spirits.
As seniors, he would never shy away from taking advice from us. In fact, he would even consult the junior players if he felt they could give him an insight that would have slipped his mind. This process got everyone in the cause of the team. No longer were players only thinking about their individual performances. He inculcated team spirit through one simple act. There was no animosity between seniors and juniors. The Indian team then became a family and Ajit never behaved like a captain, he was the head of the family. His demise feels nothing less than the death of a family member. He will always remain in our heart. A great cricketer, astute leader, and a thorough gentleman.
As told to Kushal Phatarpekar
Salim Durani is a former India cricketer who played 29 Tests from 1960 to 1973.