The death of Desh Prem Azad, a cricket coach made famous by his superstar prodigy Kapil Dev, brings back memories of so many of these tireless individuals whose contribution to the success of Indian cricket has been monumental.
Each city has had some iconic coaches whose passion was to teach and develop the skills and techniques to play the game.
Commercial benefits weren’t their sole motivation, their lives revolved around producing as many cricketers as they could. They were strict and never diverted from teaching the important values of the game. These dedicated, cricket-loving individuals can be seen in the early mornings and hot afternoons, focused on just one goal, to produce well-rounded cricketers.
In Pune, during our playing days, we had Kamal Bhandarkar. He was instrumental in creating a pool of good first-class cricketers for Maharashtra and some of us did go on to play for India.
One of our rituals was to go at the beginning of the season to his nets. The reason was that in just our first session, he would be able to identify the good and bad habits that we had cultivated and would immediately chart out a program for improvement.
At his nets, there was never a distinction between a Test player and a youngster, all were reprimanded and treated in the same manner. He died without the riches of the high-flying glamorous coaches of today, but the mission of his life was to give his soul and knowledge to the game and the satisfaction of making cricketers.
A Sachin Tendulkar would not have achieved such greatness if it had not been for Ramakant Achrekar. Here was a coach who, till recently, had only one motive, to churn out cricketers in Mumbai.
He did produce half a dozen cricketers for the country but one never recognises the plethora of them that play at all levels of the game. This year saw the sad demise of another landmark coach of the city, Vasant Amladi, while the wily bowler Vithal Patil, the coach to Ravi Shastri, Sanjay Manjrekar and many others is alive.
Bangalore had the famous Keki Tarapore.
He was the coach of the Bangalore brigade of Test cricketers- G. R. Viswanath, Brijesh Patel, Rahul Dravid, Roger Binny, Syed Kirmani and Javagal Srinath, to name a few.
The greatness of most of these rare breed of coaches was that they were strict disciplinarians and were always willing to advise and help every cricketer who approached them.
Delhi was no different and today you have the likes of Virender Sehwag reminiscing about his coach A. N. Sharma or India’s batting sensation Virat Kohli crediting his success to his coach Rajkumar Sharma. Indian cricket lives and breathes through these dedicated heroes. The BCCI should make a special attempt to identify such individuals and support them in their gallant efforts. This would be a far better solution than pouring large sums of money as bonus to professional coaches and support staff.
(The writer is a former Test cricketer)