Mumbai, Dec 03: Namaste Sir is how we always greeted Ramakant Achrekar Sir, who celebrates his 79th birthday today. However much I speak about Achrekar Sir, I feel it is not enough. I remember -- around 1985, when my brother Ajit took me to Sir, his initial reaction was that I was too young (12) and I could be brought to his nets after maybe six months or a year.
My brother had seen me play, so he requested Sir to observe me for a week. Ajit requested Sir to watch me from another place rather than from behind the net. Without me knowing, Sir kept an eye on me.
After a week, he agreed to include me in his summer camp and after a month-and-a-half he decided to change my school to Shardashram, where he was the coach. That is where my actual journey began. Things started looking different because I was part of Shardashram Vidyamandir and Sir was with me all the time.
There was a good understanding between Sir and my brother. They discussed me a lot and somehow found the right kind of direction for me going forward. Sir used to take me around town on his scooter to play matches. If I performed well, he would stop and treat me to bhel puri, paani puri or a vada pav. Sir’s generosity was really amazing. If he found out that a player was not capable of paying his monthly coaching fees, he would never ever ask him to pay it. In fact, Sir would make it a point to pay for the boy’s snack too.
He watched many games without anyone realising he was around. Hiding behind a tree, he would note down a few things and after the game he would invariably have a post-mortem where some boys were made to read out those points. You would then realise that Sir had watched the full game though we didn’t see him throughout the day. He noted down every little thing, which he felt was important to convey to the team. Physically, one would not see him, but he would be there all the time. We got the message -- ’don’t fool around’ because Sir was always at some place that we didn’t know of.
As much as we loved him and joked around, we also feared him. Whenever he got angry, no one was spared. He would bring up certain things you had to be careful about and if you continued making those mistakes, he would never hesitate to tell it like it is. I have been slapped a couple of times by Sir for making certain mistakes in my game and those moments changed my life. We were convinced that every time Sir did something, he did it for our good.
We grasped every little thing he said. He instilled in us the importance of respecting the game. And if one turned over-smart even for a fleeting moment, the game would put him back in his place, he used to say. The game is bigger than any individual and the team always comes first, he stressed. These teachings have stuck with us throughout our sporting lives.
It has not been an easy life for Sir. He has endured personal tragedies and more recently, health problems. But Sir has dealt with adversity like a true sportsman. His character has come shining through in the ebb and flow of life.
Sir has always been mentally, as well as physically strong. He never lost his passion for the game. Despite a severe stroke, he always made an attempt to walk on his own to Shivaji Park to watch a cricket match or attend a practice session. I am not surprised at all that Sir has been able to do all this. He’s a tough man.
Whenever we meet, I do most of the talking. We always go back to old stories. Some time is spent on the current scenario -- cricketing trends, and types of players, or merely on my next series. But in the main, our conversation revolves around the old days. I like making that customary visit to him before an important match or series.
My great moment
Recently, he visited my new home and it was a great moment for me. I always wanted him to come over. Taking him around the house gave me immense pleasure and satisfaction. Many, many years ago, he graced my Sahitya Sahawas home in Bandra East while I was still in school. I was delighted, but getting him to visit our home was not easy. I remember him saying then, ’invite me when you score runs, otherwise I am not coming to your house.’ So, as soon as I scored my first hundred at the school level, I invited him over.
It is an incredible feeling to be in town to wish him on his birthday. We, his students, are all delighted to be able to appreciate what he has done for all of us. When we used to land up at the nets on our birthday, there was no special treatment for the birthday boy. In fact, in a funny way, we were made to work harder. After a couple of net sessions Sir would give us some money to have a vada pav. Not only on our birthdays, but on other days as well. Indeed, today is a special day for Sir and us. He has played a great innings and may he go on.