regular-article-logo Saturday, 09 December 2023

Naresh Kumar: Captain, friend and gentleman

'He had a calming effect anywhere he went. Especially on the tennis court'

Jaidip Mukerjea Published 15.09.22, 03:20 AM
Naresh Kumar.

Naresh Kumar. File photo

Naresh Kumar, the doyen of Indian tennis, entrepreneur and someone who embodied a genteel Calcutta, passed away at his home in the city on Wednesday. He was 93.

Former Davis Cup star Jaidip Mukerjea, who made his debut under Kumar’s captaincy and considers him a mentor, pays tribute.


It is difficult to believe that Naresh Kumar is no more. I knew he was ailing for some time. In fact, things had taken a turn for the worse last week and I was told that the chance of his survival was not very good.

It is a very sad day for me personally. It is also a huge loss for the Indian tennis fraternity.

Naresh Kumar was the perfect gentleman. The way he carried himself, with dignity, is something we all admired. He had a calming effect anywhere he went. Especially on the tennis court.

I grew up idolising Naresh Kumar the tennis star. He had a great influence on me.

Premjit Lall and I were just starting our tennis lessons as teenagers at Calcutta South Club under a coaching scheme run by Dilip Bose. Naresh Kumar, then India’s top player, would drop in and guide us. The way he demonstrated the finer aspects of the game helped all of us grow as players.

I remember he would always bring back some memento for us from abroad, especially from Wimbledon. Maybe a wristband, or a cap — I used to cherish them.

I have lost a great mentor and friend today. I still remember my Davis Cup debut in 1960 against Thailand. I got a place alongside my captain Naresh Kumar in the two-member team, after Ramanathan Krishnan contracted chicken pox.

I won my debut singles match in five sets then as an 18-year-old. I had landed in Bangkok that day itself and it was a tough match. But my captain was always by my side. He motivated me to go for the win.

He was a good student of tennis. Apart from being a tennis player, he was also a very good tennis writer. He did commentary too, but that was before the days of television.

I remember, when in 1956 India played Australia in the Davis Cup final in Melbourne, he did commentary for All India Radio in both Hindi and English.

He was also a successful entrepreneur and did a lot of charitable work. He had helped many people, especially struggling young players. But he would never talk about them. That was his greatness.

Not too many people know this. During the platinum jubilee of the South Club, he was the president. The club was in the doldrums. There was no money to even pay the salaries of the staff. Naresh Kumar paid them out of his own pocket for quite some months.

Though he was senior to me, we had become very good friends over the years. Our families were friends. He was the kind of man that no one in this world could dislike.

His going away means a huge void in my life. We used to chat a lot, joke a lot. We had common friends. We both loved London and Wimbledon. There are so many memories.

From our generation, Akhtar (Ali), Premjit (Lall) all are gone. I am the last of the Mohicans.

Yes, I will miss him terribly. I have to get used to it that Naresh Kumar is no more.

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