The man who moulded the master
In “Ramakant Achrekar”, Kunal Purandare brings the story of a true cricket guru to cricket lovers
It is a first and Kunal Purandare does a fine job. A book on a cricket coach was a venture not attempted and Purandare comes up with a commendable story of Ramakant Achrekar, the man who polished a gem called Sachin Tendulkar.
“It is the most wonderful thing. It has refreshed our memories, all those wonderful moments spent at Shivaji Park. Sir is always in my heart. Our relationship can’t be described in words. It takes me back 32 years when I was 11 and went to him, nervous and tense. I didn’t bat well at all. My brother (Ajit) then requested Achrekar Sir to move away from the nets. And I batted as best as I could. Acherkar Sir asked me if I was prepared to change my school. I changed my school and that’s how the wonderful journey began,” says the batting master on his revered coach.
Talking of Achrekar, Tendulkar recalls, “He made us play lot of practice games, and during those matches, his commitment was more than ours. He would hide behind a tree, we knew he was watching us, and had to be on our toes. Invariably, after the game he would call for a team meeting. He would have noted some basic points and take us through all our mistakes.”
Purandare excels in his narrative, language lucid and fluent, bringing out the best of Achrekar’s approach to the game and his students in the book titled “Ramakant Achrekar” (Roli Books). There is a poignant anecdote of Achrekar reaching Shivaji Park late sometime in mid-1960s. “Unusual,” as Purandare recounts. Suddenly the coach turns up in a tearing hurry to start the training. The students are unaware that Achrekar had returned from the cremation of his son. The book begins with this chapter on Achrekar’s dedication to his work. Tendulkar adds, “I remember many senior cricketers sharing this with me. Some players went to his home to express their condolences but they were asked to return to the practice grounds.”
It is Purandare’s favourite anecdote too. “Achrekar returning to the ground to conduct nets immediately after performing the last rites of his new-born son early morning. It speaks volumes about the man’s focus and attitude towards his students. We saw the same when his illustrious ward Sachin Tendulkar returned to play the 1999 World Cup after the demise of his father. Vinod Kambli, too, played the 2000 Ranji Trophy semi-final and final after his mother passed away.”
As Purandare points out, there are a few more. “The other incidents include him slapping former India stumper Chandrakant Pandit for getting out after scoring a triple hundred in a school match. At that age, one is bound to feel overjoyed for scoring so many runs, but to tell him that it still does not give him the liberty to throw away his wicket is the duty of a good coach. It also conveys that one should not take form for granted and make the most of it because a bad patch may just be around the corner. Also the fact that Achrekar legally adopted Naresh Churi just so that he gets to see matches at Wankhede Stadium and offering Rs.1,000 as salary to Pandit’s father who wanted his son to have a ‘well-paying job’ rather than pursue a career in cricket. These two instances show Achrekar’s human side and the fact that he went beyond the dictionary definition of a coach.”
Achrekar is seen as coach-cum-mentor of players who took to cricket as a career. “Sir taught us 30 years ago what is being taught today,” insists Tendulkar. “We absorbed every little thing that he taught us. Sir was strict as well. It worked for us. He had a formula to ensure we corrected our mistakes. He is very caring. He had given me a challenge when I went to invite him for a dinner. Only if I scored a hundred would he come. I was 94 overnight and spent the night tossing and turning got my hundred in the first over, went and invited him. It was a big moment in my life. He has been an integral part of my journey. I continue to be grateful to him for his guidance and blessings.”
The highlight is Purandare’s splendid research and hard work, speaking to most who were associated with Achrekar. There are Shivaji Park cricket tales, some unheard, that make the biography a compelling read.
Purandare manages to extract some rare information on Tendulkar’s grooming from his elder brother, Ajit, the man who has had a huge influence on his cricket. Ajit was the force behind Tendulkar’s rise and ultimate status as one of the finest the game has seen. It is fascinating to read how Tendulkar’s 20-25 runs in a Kanga League match on a pitch where the ball was flying around is highlighted by Govind Koli. Such little-known details embellish Purandare’s tribute to Achrekar.
The best part of the book, as Purandare shares, is his access to the players. “I consider myself blessed that I was destined to narrate the life story of one of the world’s greatest cricket coaches. The experience made me feel privileged about the cricketing culture in my city (Mumbai) and country, and at the same time, brought to light the reverence associated with gurus in our part of the world. It is a tale of triumph and a remarkable story of one man’s dedication towards his passion. The process of writing the book and hearing fascinating stories about Achrekar and his teaching techniques gave me immense satisfaction. It showed the respect his wards have for him even today, decades after they passed out from his ‘humble academy’ at Shivaji Park.”
Achrekar’s Test XI makes for interesting observation: Ramnath Parkar, Lalchand Rajput, Vinod Kambli, Sachin Tendulkar, Pravin Amre, Chandrakant Pandit, Ajit Agarkar, Sanjay Bangar, Sameer Dighe, Balvinder Singh Sandhu and Ramesh Powar. It is a compact combination that does proud to one of India’s most acknowledged cricket gurus.
inder Singh Sandhu and Ramesh Powar. It is a compact combination that does proud to one of India’s most acknowledged cricket gurus.
Purandare concludes, “We are known to be a country with a strong guru-shishya tradition. Outside our immediate circle of family and friends, the guru or the teacher plays a vital role in shaping and moulding individuals from an impressionable age. These are people who revel in the success of others while playing a monumental role behind the scenes. Gurus are held in high regard and accorded immense respect for sacrificing their lives in building men and women of substance. The importance of a guru cannot merely be explained in words, it is something that one experiences at every step of his life.”