Every sport has an icon or two that fans come to associate with. They are the literal brand ambassadors of the game. While athletics has Usain Bolt, football offers plenty for fans to pick and choose from without breaking a sweat. And in cricket-mad India, things are no different.
But for every superstar that there is, there is also a servant of the game. The humble practitioner, that toils day in and day out, perfecting the nuances of a game which he'd rather call an art form. Far away from the arc lights of glamour, he spends hours in pursuit of excellence and waits in silence for acknowledgment.
Amol Muzumdar did just that and did so for over two decades. Reams have already been written about just how unfortunate he was to have blossomed in the same era as the "big four". And there are several other accounts of how he padded up and waited in the wings as Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli batted their way into the records books as school kids. These narratives inevitably became metaphors to illustrate what was to become Muzumdar's career - a perennial waiting in the wings.
Writing an epitaph is perhaps a lot easier while evoking a "what might have been" visual. And the observers have sadly opted for this rather simple route when it came to the curious case of Muzumdar’s career. However, evoking empathy only adds to the battling protagonist's agony - a constant reminder of the heights that he could have scaled had the powers that be favoured his cause.
Yet, behind all the clamour over a long career, spent solely in pursuit of an elusive goal, the man himself, remains as calm as a zen monk. As a television commentator, he now travels the country covering domestic cricket.
"I was always interested in the media, having my own opinion and then voicing it,” said Amol Muzumdar, as I spoke with him on the sidelines of the Karbonn Karnataka Premier League 2016 at Hubballi.
Those that know Muzumdar recall a young Mumbaikar working hard at his game while looking deep within himself to iron out flaws which only he seemed to be able to unearth. And this innate ability seems to have aided his transition to the media.
"It’s a bit natural to me. I've been this guy who could analyze things. Self-analysis has been a part of my career all this while, so it was just a bit of how I can translate that into my thoughts and opinions and project it in front of the crowd.”
As he spoke in a calm and assured manner, you could clearly tell that Muzumdar feels just as home with the mic in hand as he did at the crease with a willow. But surely, there must have been some initial hiccups, I wondered.
"Luckily, I had great seniors with me - Shivaramakrishnan, VB Chandrasekhar and Vivek Razdan - who had done a lot of domestic cricket. Luckily they took me along," he said with a wide grin.
"You tend to watch and learn a lot of things as what you do in cricket as well. So, I think its very important to have these guys alongside. I was lucky enough to have them," said the Mumbaikar.
With plenty of cricket on air these days and viewers resorting to watching the telecast on mute should the commentary not excite them, the onus is on the experts with the mic to turn the game into a palatable spectacle. And with that responsibility comes pressure.
But Muzumdar surprisingly seems to relish the challenge. As I stood aside and watched him call the bustling T20 action live, his tone is just as soothing as the gentle breeze blowing across the picturesque stadium at Hubballi.
"I like a little bit of pressure as well,” he said with a twinkle in his eyes. "In cricket, you generally tend to have a little bit of pressure, when you're out there in the middle. And that's what I love about live commentary and television is that there is a little element of pressure and I love it,” he said with the enthusiasm of a teenager having scored his first ton.
Through the course of his career, Muzumdar was known for lengthy preparations leading up to a game. Be it shadow practise the night before the game or hours spent in visualisation - the man left no stone unturned.
Old habits certainly die hard and a lot of that formative preparation has now rubbed on to his newfound profession as well.
"Yeah, now it’s a different kind of preparation. I do tend to write my own scripts sometimes. When you're doing the pitch report or when you're doing the toss,” he said, while highlighting the fact that he strives to get it right.
"Live television is a little bit of pressure and you cannot fumble over there. You cannot make a mistake, so it’s nice to be prepared. Of course getting into a tournament, you need to know the players and the history of the tournament. I like to read a little bit about it, so I am prepared for any kind of scenario and any kind of questions."
For a cricketer who once had the legendary Ramakant Achrekar as a coach to look up to for guidance, I wondered if Muzumdar missed having someone of that stature while in his new avatar in the commentary box.
"I do get feedback from the producer. It always helps," he said. "It’s a new territory. It’s not as if I've been doing it for years and years. It’s a different experience for me and you know being on the ground for 25 years and now off the ground, it's always a challenge. So every suggestion, every constructive criticism is welcome."
And who does he have the most fun with when on air? "My favourite sessions have always been with Mr. Vivek Razdan," he said with a smile, just as Razdan walked nonchalantly past us mumbling a popular Hindi movie number.
"It's quite fun to be with Vivek. And even with Rohan and Deepdas Gupta. They've been my friends, my colleagues all this while. So it’s always been fun”.
And while playing for India was his ultimate goal as a cricketer, doing live commentary for an international game is what he aspires to do going forward. That said, not for one fleeting moment does he take the present for granted.
"It's been my nature to enjoy everything. Wheather I was playing cricket and commentary (now), every single day is very important to me wheather I am doing domestic, KPL or any other league in India. So every day is a challenge and I look at it in a very positive manner."
And just who would he love to have batting when he's on air during an international match?
"AB de Villiers", he said after a brief pause. "You've got to be a 360-degree commentator as well," he added before breaking into spontaneous laughter.
After two decades and thousands of first-class runs, Muzumdar's transition now appears complete. Clearly happy and at peace with his newfound love, the ebullient smile is just as good as ever.
And as we finish our conversation, he spots the players going through a catching routine and strolls over in their direction. Soon enough, he lines up alongside them and urges the trainer to hit it high. With measured footwork, he gets right under the ball and pulls off the skier in copybook style before hurling it straight into the keeper’s gloves - all while wearing formal shoes, well-ironed trousers, shirt and tie.