|Ajit Wadekar in the city on Thursday. Picture by Santosg Ghosh
Calcutta: A history-scripting captain, immensely successful coach… A former selection committee chairman too…
Clearly, Ajit Wadekar has worn more than one hat with distinction: The solitary Indian captain to win back-to-back series’ overseas (West Indies, England) and the only one to have beaten the West Indies on their home turf… Later, as coach, he recorded a 68-plus success percentage in Tests and over 61 in the ODIs…
That will take some beating.
Actually, 29 years after quitting cricket and seven years after ending his term as coach (incidentally, no one has gone beyond his three-and-half years), Wadekar is happy that the present Team India “is professional and aggressive.”
“Today, there’s more of aggression and less of sentiment in our cricket… There’s lot more money as well and, with that, has come an awareness about the game alone providing the bread and butter,” is how one of India’s most revered sportsmen, now 62, put it, shortly after arriving here (from Mumbai) late on Thursday.
Speaking to The Telegraph, he added: “It’s been a slow process but, yes, I see a greater degree of professionalism… We’re getting closer to Australia… Having a foreigner (John Wright) as coach has helped and Sourav (Ganguly) has been leading with purpose. At the same time, generally, we shouldn’t get carried away.”
Wadekar elaborated: “I’ve read that Prakash Padukone and Geet Sethi will be lecturing the players in Bangalore… While I respect both Sethi and Padukone, what on earth can they tell a Sachin Tendulkar' Surely, it’s Sachin who ought to be lecturing the shuttlers and cueists.”
Talking specifically about Wright (who is two months short of completing three years) and Sourav (who has logged three-and-half years), he said: “The coach hasn’t been weighed down by any emotional and sentimental baggage — that has given him a free hand… As for Sourav, he has backed the juniors and, in turn, got the seniors’ support. The captain is seen as a guide and, in Sourav, the players have somebody tall to look up to… Personally, I like his aggression and the fashion in which he has injected that killer-instinct.”
Looking ahead, to the 2003-2004 season which begins with the two (home) Tests against New Zealand, Wadekar commented: “No matter how innovative the Black Caps’ preparations, playing India in India is never going to be easy… I’ll be surprised if we are pushed around…
“Of course, the scenario will be different once we tour Australia (from late November)… However, provided we don’t get overawed, we should be able to give a good account of ourselves… In fact, we must remain aggressive, without going over the top… I mean, our bowlers shouldn’t think of doing everything at the same time — something they attempted, with disastrous consequences, in the World Cup final.”
Will sledging be a ‘factor’'
Laughing, he responded: “That’s the Australian way of scoring a point or two and won’t ever change. Really, they care two hoots about… As I’ve said, we must not get overawed… Nor get flustered… The focus should be on cricket — we must be aware of both our strengths and limitations… The Australian intensity, though, is remarkable…
“Did we face sledging' Look, those days were different… I don’t think anything more than the occasional four-letter word was ever exchanged…”
Asked whether he favoured continuing with makeshift openers (like Virender Sehwag) in Tests, Wadekar answered: “Not at all… The mental make-up of specialist openers is different from the other batters and, at the top of the order, it’s important to have batsmen with a clear mind.”
However, he endorsed the Sourav-Wright decision of convincing Rahul Dravid to ’keep in the ODIs.
“Initially, I did have reservations… Yet, with time, Dravid has improved and it’s beyond debate that he balanced the XI beautifully (in the World Cup)… The good thing about Dravid is that he’s serious about everything… In the larger interest, then, he could continue,” Wadekar suggested.
That line has quite a few takers.
Incidentally, Wadekar has lent his name to a little-known but praiseworthy organisation — the All India Cricketers’ Association for the Disabled. He has been its president since it was founded in 1988.