In cricket, even though 1984/85 was the most memorable year for me as we won both the All India Rohinton Baria Trophy for supremacy in varsity cricket and the Vizzy Trophy for being the winners of the inter- zonal championship, it was only in 1987/88, that my good form and scores got me into the Mumbai Ranji team along with one 14 year wonder kid who was hitting the headlines in school cricket. That kid was none other than someone who took the mantle of The God of Cricket, Sachin Tendulkar. That year Sandeep Patil had just hung his boots and opted to be the Manager for our Mumbai Ranji team. Mumbai had a strong line up consisting of Shishir Hattangadi, Sanjay Manjrekar, Chandrakant Pandit, Lalchand Rajput, Allan Sippy, Raju Kulkarni and others. Net result, for the entire season, I along with Sachin had to sit in the dugout cooling our heels as we soaked in the atmosphere .
The same year, I also got invited to play for the hosts Arlem Breweries team lead by Test opening batsman Anshuman Gaikwad for the Arlem Trophy which used to be an All India Invitation tournament played at Goa. Top corporate teams from across India would be invited to play with the hosts Arlem Breweries rolling out the red carpet making sure everyone had an unlimited supply of Arlem beer in their rooms. My Arlem debut brought me a good exposure to some competitive cricket beyond Mumbai. I fared well, falling just short of the three figure mark against a strong Tata Sports team led by Ravi Shashtri. With the hosts going out of the way to make all players comfortable, it was also my first exposure to the beyond the ground glamour in cricket.
The subsequent year, 1988/89 holds a very special place for me as that year I carried on with my good form from where I had left when the previous season ended. I got into the groove early scoring heavily right from the 1st tournament for the club season, the gruelling Kanga league. In club cricket, I used to represent Dadar Union (affectionately known as DU in cricketing circles) which was a top team with an impressive track record of churning out pedigree players like Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar, Sanjay Manjrekar to name a few. The discipline and passion of the players was such that even Sunil Gavaskar (fondly referred to as SMG by us) and Sanjay would ensure that if they were in town on a Sunday, during the off season, they would happily turn out to represent the club in Kanga league matches. Since I stay at Mahim, another team mate at Shivaji Park and Sanjay at Prabhadevi, whenever Gavaskar used to be available for our DU game, three of us would have the responsibility to pick up and drop SMG en-route to the town side venues from/to his Worli residence. During one of our rides, SMG had once confessed that the Worli seafront drive was his favourite drive.
For those uninitiated on the Mumbai cricket scene, Kanga league is a tournament which is played only during the monsoon to give players a chance to get used to playing under heavy overcast and sometimes even wet conditions which mimic the english county cricket conditions. Even though the Kanga league matches are played just for one day, there are no over restrictions. Due to the monsoon, wickets are under prepared and the playing conditions most of the time are heavily in favour of the bowlers. The bowlers earlier used to get even an 8 ball (Australian) over. Team scores of both the teams put together sometimes barely manage to even cross the half century (50) mark. I know of matches wherein DU has defended totals of even less 25 runs and then gone on for an outright win.
That year, in one of the A Division Kanga league matches, DU played against P J Hindu Gymkhana (a very competitive team) which had Eknath Solkar in their ranks. Solkar played for India as an all rounder bowling left arm medium pace and was known as one of the best close-in fielders India has seen during the Prasanna – Bedi- Venkataraghavan – Chandrasekhar golden quartet spin era of the 1970s. By then Solkar was past his prime but even then used to be very active while on the field. In that match, of all the players Eknath Solkar dropped my catch and I ended up making the most of it by scoring a hundred in 77 minutes. This turned out to be a record for the fastest hundred scored in the 1988/89 season for which I got awarded the Jasdenwalla Trophy for individual achievement . That year, I also played a crucial role in my company, IDBI winning the Jr. Inter-Bank Shield cricket tournament with the final played at the Wankhede stadium. I scored an unbeaten hundred which included a massive six which had landed on the “T” of the “Tata Enterprises” letters hosted on the stadium’s roof at the north stand end.
Slide # 1 – Stepping out to bat in a Kanga League; Slide # 2 – The Wankhede stadium before renovation with the “T” of the Tata Enterprises on the north stand roof.
Even though cricketing wise I peaked in this season, looking at the talent in the Mumbai team and Sachin already having made his debut, I weighed my options and opted to change tracks moving away from competitive cricket after this season. I joined Jamnalal Bajaj Institute for a MBA, post which I got an on campus job offer from ANZ Grindlays Bank. From then on my association with cricket switched from competitive cricket to corporate cricket ( it’s basically cricket played by corporate czars to settle scores on the cricket field away from the corporate battlefields) where I continued to indulge in with my passion for cricket.
ANZ Grindlays was originally a British bank founded by Capt Grindlays with a long history of being in India since the 1800s. In late 1984 ANZ Banking Group from Australia took over Grindlays to form the ANZ Grindlays Bank. Having such a strong colonial influence, corporate cricket had a very important place in their annual events calendar. ANZ Grindlays had a very large set up and India played a significant role in their Southeast Asian region. Our annual cricket event had an international flavour to it with teams from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka also being invited. In 1993 our annual South East Asia cricketing event held in Chennai was very memorable for me . It was a 40 over a side tournament with a league format followed by a final. To ensure more participation the Indian operations were divided into north , south, east ,west and the Bangladesh team was invited to give the tournament an international flavour. I was part of the West Zone team. In our one of our league matches we played Bangladesh, I won the toss and opted to bat. Batting after a long time, I took some time to middle the ball. Having settled down, I started stroking the ball all over the ground and by end of our innings, I couldn’t believe our team score
had crossed the 300 mark in the allotted 40 overs with 200+ coming from my bat alone!!
While I have some more tales to share but for now here’s cheers to Eknath Solkar and some of my cricketing tales from here and there which invariably on a busy day pop into my head to bring a smile and a cheer to pull me through the day !!!
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