In the last few decades, Ramakant Achrekar’s name had become so synonymous with being the coach of Sachin Tendulkar that even if he had not produced a single other cricketer of repute before or after him, his position among the Dronacharyas of Mumbai cricket would not have been questioned.
But for many of us who have witnessed Achrekar slogging on the Shivaji Park ground preparing nets and wickets with his students before every practice session and taking the talented ones across the city to play matches on his scooter, the contribution of the man goes much beyond his most illustrious prodigy.
The names of former internationals Praveen Amre, Chandrakant Pandit, Vinod Kambli, Ajit Agarkar, Paras Mhambrey, Ramesh Powar quickly come to mind when one tries to list Achrekar’s trainees who went on to win the India cap and almost all of them, even today, can’t stop speaking about his role in building their career.
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But the first real talent to make his name from Achrekar’s stable was probably the Late Ramnath Parkar, a two-Test veteran who was renowned for his dynamic fielding and aggressive batting at the top of the order for Mumbai. He spotted Parkar’s talent while watching him play tennis ball cricket in Jambori Maidan in Worli and then honed his skills till the cricketer moved to Dadar Union, which was one of the biggest clubs in Mumbai cricket at that time.
However, Parkar continued to play for Achrekar’s Kamat Memorial Cricket Club in the Inter-Bhandari community cricket tournament. It was this tournament through which Achrekar himself started his cricketing career and though he never represented Mumbai, he did manage to play one Moin-ud-Dowlah Gold Cup match in early 70s for his employer, State Bank of India, when the team boasted of names like Ajit Wadekar, Abid Ali and Hanumant Singh in its ranks.
Selfless tutor, taskmaster
Achrekar wasn’t the one who would rush to take credit of the performance of his trainees and instead of building the reputation of his club, which was then playing in the lower division, would ask other top clubs to field his players in their teams to get more exposure.
Even when Sachin Tendulkar scored his first Ranji Trophy century on debut against Gujarat as a 15-year-old, the coach sat in the stands with the other students of Shardhashram school and did not even bother speaking to the media after the knock.
In fact, he was a firm believer in keeping the players grounded and had even berated this writer for writing a lot on Tendulkar when he was dominating school cricket, saying we should let him concentrate on his batting.
All his trainees would vouch for the fact that Achrekar was a hard taskmaster who demanded complete dedication from his players. Vidarbha coach and former India international Pandit still remembers the day when he scored a triple hundred in an inter-school match and was expecting a pat on the back after getting out in the last over of the day. Instead, he received a slap on his face for throwing away his wicket after all the hard work through the day.
Achrekar wasn’t a great communicator and would rarely talk at length with anyone around him but was a completely transformed figure when on the cricket field. His coaching philosophy revolved around giving the talented players a lot of exposure by taking them for friendly matches in the city and he rarely believed in changing the natural technique or approach of any player.
Instead, he would focus on building on that foundation and look to teach them how to make the most of an in-match situation.
The personal touch
He depended a lot of Das Shivalkar, the younger brother of former Mumbai stalwart Padmakar Shivalkar, to scout talent from suburbs and inducted them into the school. It was the time when Shardashram School (English and Marathi) completely dominated Mumbai schools cricket and at times ended up facing each other in the finals of the Giles and Harris Shield.
Youngsters who came from far away places would be taken to his home in Bhoiwada for lunch where his wife would cook for the lot.
However, Achrekar’s coaching career started with Dayanand Balak Vidyalaya in Matunga where he produced cricketers like Shyamji Padaya, Padam Shastri and Suresh Shastri, who went on captain Rajasthan in Ranji Trophy and then became a renowned umpire.
He also had a stint with Jhunjhunwala college before taking over coaching duties at Shardashram High School, which changed his life completely and catapulted him into national recognition when Tendulkar and Kambli registered the record partnership of 664 in 1988. The Union Sports Ministry awarded him with the Dronacharya Award in 1990 and it was only after this recognition that the Maharashtra Government and even Mumbai Cricket Association ended up taking note of his contribution to Mumbai cricket.
But for this writer, Achrekar’s contribution to Mumbai cricket goes beyond the players he produced. It was the coaching philosophy of pushing his wards to the limit to produce results that is being imbibed in the likes of Pandit and Amre, who coached Mumbai to the Ranji Trophy titles and are giving results with other teams as well.
One can also not overlook Achrekar’s contribution to women’s cricket. His two daughters Kalpana and Vishakha went on to play for Mumbai while he also coached many girls at Navyug club and could be seen watching women’s cricket matches at the club even after he stopped coaching and was mostly confined to his house.
Not many would know that Achrekar also played a small role in one of the episodes in a Marathi crime detection serial, 100, but never thought of pursuing it as a career.
He was always more concerned with producing champion cricketers and today, when the who’s-who of Mumbai Cricket arrive at Shivaji Park for his final farewell, the greatest tribute to Achrekar sir would be remember him for his overall contribution to Mumbai cricket rather than just as the coach of Sachin Tendulkar.
(Sharad Kadrekar is a senior sports journalist who covered cricket for over four decades for various Marathi dailies)