The most famous cricket coach in India has left us poorer by his demise. But Ramakant Achrekar has forever enriched our cricket with the gems he honed at his academy in Mumbai.
Out of the cradle of cricket in Mumbai, Achrekar produced some of India’s best-known cricketers, alongside the greatest ever batsman of his era, Sachin Tendulkar.
Though Achrekar had been coaching since the 1960s, he really came to the fore when a baby-faced Tendulkar made his debut against a rampaging Pakistan in 1989, as a 16-year-old. People were curious at the point about who this boy was, and what his story was. That’s when the roots to Achrekar’s Kamat Memorial Club at the Shivaji Park were traced.
You’ll always be in our hearts. pic.twitter.com/0UIJemo5oM— Sachin Tendulkar (@sachin_rt) January 2, 2019
The Man Who Didn't Let Sachin Become Just a Number
Achrekar was the reason Tendulkar was not lost in the maze that Mumbai cricket can sometimes be, with hundreds of young aspirants dreaming big.
His coaching methods were simple. He was made from the old era where the dictum was ‘be prepared to work hard’.
He would spend hours at the Shivaji Park in what is really the melting pot of all young cricketers even today. You have multiple nets, multiple academies operating at that one massive plot of land. There’s so much going on at one time on the ground that you would never know that it is where some of the best in the world have learnt how to perfect their cover drive.
"“I take a thorough trial of each student who comes to me, and observe his technique and style of playing stokes. I believe that every player should stick to his natural game, not change it, but try to improve it through constant practice and playing more games. My job as coach is to point out mistakes, to guide students into how best to correct their flaws while retaining their natural game.”" - Ramakant Achrekar to Rediff.com in 1998.
The Achrekar Hand in Sachin-Kambli Partnership
Apart from his cricketing lessons, Achrekar’s intervention ensured that Tendulkar switched schools from Bandra’s New English School to Dadar’s Sharadashram Vidya Mandir to get better at cricket. This move proved to be life-changing for Tendulkar as his opportunities increased manifold. He rose through the ranks and was soon among the most sought-after young names in Indian cricket in 1988.
Stories were abound in Mumbai cricket at the time of how Tendulkar and another youngster Kambli were taking school cricket by storm. Their stand of 664 in a school game was part of the flavour of Mumbai cricket; especially the part when Tendulkar and Kambli kept batting on despite contrary orders from Achrekar to declare.
There was fear yet respect for the venerable coach from his wards. He was stringent on them, yet lenient in the way he dealt with them. He would sometimes let go of his strict rules by treating them to vada pav, bhel puri or sev puri. That’s where Tendulkar’s love for vada pav was developed.
Before Tendulkar, Achrekar had coached a number of other cricketers who had played for India, including 1983 World Cup hero Balwinder Singh Sandhu, Lalchand Rajput, Chandrakant Pandi. After Tendulkar and Kambli, there were couple more who went on to play for India, including Pravin Amre, Ajit Agarkar and Sameer Dighe.
Perhaps the proudest moment for Achrekar was when the trio of Kambli, Tendulkar and Amre manned India’s middle-order in the Mumbai Test of 1993 against England. This was also the first time Mumbaikars were seeing their teenaged prodigy, Tendulkar, in action in a Test match in their beloved city. Tendulkar had played just one Test before that in India as he was touring constantly from 1989 to early 1993.
The British press, especially, was busy churning out stories about Achrekar’s influence on the most sought-after cricketer at the time in the world.
From Lalchand Rajput to Ajit Agarkar
About five years later in 1998, Ajit Agarkar, the youngest international cricketer to have honed his skills under Achrekar, made his way into the Indian squad as a teenager. Mumbai cricket’s loyal servant, Sameer Dighe, was the last from the Achrekar stable to play for India when he made his debut in 2000.
The legacy has now passed onto his daughter Kalpana, who has continued to coach young boys and girls at the same hallowed turf of Shivaji Park. Scorers still turn up at the Kamat Memorial Club hoping to become the next Tendulkar. The baton has well and truly passed.
Achrekar was the perfect example of how you don’t necessarily have to be a good cricketer to be a great coach. He had played just one first-class game and that too for State Bank for India. He was a regular club cricketer who plied his trade tirelessly on the maidaans of Mumbai since the 1940s and carried that same spirit into his coaching role later on.
There can be no greater tribute to the man than an annual coaching award being instituted in his name by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). He deserves all the kudos coming his way because it was his eye for talent that has ensured that Indian cricket is in the best health possible.
A coaching certificate in his name, too, would be the ultimate tribute for the man who trained his wards in the ways that worked well for him.
Rest in peace, Sir, for you have left an indelible mark!
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