There were cricket coaches and then there was a Ramakant Achrekar, whose contribution was way more than gifting India batting master Sachin Tendulkar.
Achrekar, who died in Mumbai at the age of 87 of Wednesday, belonged to a near extinct tribe of cricket coaches, who gave quintessential talented middle-class boys hope and knowledge.
The picture of Achrekar sporting a half-sleeved cotton shirt, simple trousers and a golf cap while perfecting a 14-year-old Tendulkar’s forward defense at the Shivaji Park Gymkhana was all about the simpler times of the 1980s.
Those were days when cricket coaching centres were mushrooming throughout the India, an effect of Kapil Dev’s devils scripting the 1983 World Cup win. But, therein was the difference between Achrekar and other coaches as he never enrolled anyone who didn’t have the required merit, PTI reported.
Tendulkar and his elder brother Ajit have time and again recalled how Achrekar would stand behind trees to let the former play freely. The story of Achrekar putting a one rupee coin over stumps and challenging Tendulkar not to get bowled in order to earn the coin is a part of cricketing folklore.
Tendulkar still maintains that those coins are priceless. Or when Tendulkar got a “tight slap” for missing a match in order to watch the senior school team play a final match. “People should come to watch you rather you clapping from the stands,” Tendulkar recalled Achrekar’s words in a story that has been repeated often at various functions.
Every player, who learnt his ropes at the Shivaji Park Gymkhana during the 80s and early 1990s, have their own “Achrekar story” that they recollect with fondness.
Ask Chandrakant Pandit, Amol Mujumdar, Praveen Amre, Ajit Agarkar, Lalchand Rajput what a “Guru” meant. He never let his wards settle for anything less than the best. A little Tendulkar would pillion ride on his sir’s scooter to play multiple matches at various maidans in Mumbai.
If he felt that Chandrakant Pandit had talent and needed support, he wouldn’t shy away from dropping at the youngster’s residence to bring him to practice.
There have been many Dronacharyas in cricket since Achrekar but no one could match his eminence although Delhi’s Tarak Sinha can come close for producing a clutch of Test cricketers.
But Achrekar set a different benchmark for professional coaches at the grassroots. His greatness could be gauged by the most popular sarcasm that is reserved for any junior coach, who is perceived as pompous by cricket establishment. “Apne aap ko Achrekar samajhta hai (that coach thinks he is Achrekar).”
Whether Bengali or Hindi, the reference for mocking any junior coach is the retired bank employee from Mumbai. A lasting memory would be Tendulkar’s farewell speech in Mumbai in 2013.
“Sir has never ever said ‘well played’ to me because he thought I would get complacent...maybe he can push his luck and wish me now, well done on my career because there are no more matches, sir, in my life,” a teary-eyed Tendulkar had said after his 200th Test match.
And, that perhaps was the Achrekar magic. His most famous and favourite ward craved for his stamp of approval one last time. Tendulkar didn’t get that but at the end of his guru’s life journey, the batting great did say, “Well played sir and may you coach more wherever you are.”