The maidaans of Mumbai are truly responsible for constantly churning out quality cricketers who have gone on to represent the city, the state or the country at various levels of cricket. Mumbai has given the maximum amount of Test cricketers, right from Vijay Merchant to Sunil Gavaskar to Sachin Tendulkar to Ajinkya Rahane, each of them had contributed towards the success of Indian cricket.
But one cricketer from Mumbai remains extra special as he was the first captain to win a Test for India abroad. Born on April 1, 1941 in Bombay; left handed Ajit Wadekar went on to rewrite history as he led India to a famous wins over West Indies and England in their own backyard.
Wadekar was one of the most aggressive captains of his time and even admitted to asking his boys to sledge the opposition. " During my tenure I told players that if you do not know words in English to sledge them then use your natural tongue in Marathi or whatever language you are comfortable with" revealed the legend in an interview with Cricket Country.
He also revealed that Eknath Solkar was the biggest sledger in the Indian team.
Wadekar started out as an aggressive batsman who liked to play his game no matter what situation the match was in and he rapidly climbed the stair of success and made his First Class debut in 1958 and soon appeared in Indian team clothing against West Indies in 1966 at Brabourne Stadium. Wadekar solidified his place at no.3 and became one of the best no.3 batsmen for India.
Wadekar was also a brilliant slips fielder and his catches on the bowling of Indian spinners like Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, E. Prasanna and Bishan Bedi are stuffs of legend. When a BCCI committee led by Vijay Merchant voted to end the reign of Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi as captain of India, Wadekar was the first name discussed to succeed Pataudi. Wadekar had captained Mumbai and he was appointed as captain of India in 1971.
He led India to a thumping victory over West Indies in West Indies, winning the Port of Spain Test, which was also the debut match of Sunil Gavaskar, in the 5 match series. Gavaskar scored a record 774 runs in the 4 Tests he played in his debut series. He also scored 4 centuries including a brilliant 220 in the Port of Spain victory.
Wadekar then led India to England for a three match series and routed England 1-0, winning the 3rd Test at Kennington Oval in London. Wadekar led the most runs chart with 204 runs in the series, including an innings of 85 at Lord’s. Wadekar became the first Indian captain to win series against the West Indies and England, in their own backyard.
England then toured India and in 1972-73 and Wadekar defeated them 2-1 in the 5 match series, despite losing the first Test at Delhi. Wadekar was lauded for his captaincy and batting alike. Wadekar’s highest Test score of 143 came against New Zealand in Wellington in 1968 in a win.
However, when India toured England again in 1974, things took a 180 degree turn and India were routed 3-0 in the Test series and 2-0 in the ODI series. Wadekar was blamed for the debacle and was not only forced to step down from the captaincy, but was also asked to announce his retirement from the game.
Wadekar played 37 Tests for India and scored 2,113 runs including one century and 14 half-centuries. He also took 46 catches, most of them in slips off quality spin bowling. In a first class career of 237 matches, Wadekar scored 15,380 runs with 36 hundreds and 84 fifties. His highest score was 323, which came against Mysore in the semi-finals of Ranji Trophy in 1966-67.
After some time away from the game, Wadekar managed India from 1992-1996 and later became Chairman of selectors from 1998-99. He was only the second cricketer to don all the three hats of captain, manager and chairman of selectors at that time after Lala Amarnath.
Ajit Wadekar was awarded the Arjuna Award in 1967, PadmaShri in 1972 and BCCI awarded him the CK Nayudu Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.