Mumbai has produced some of India’s greatest cricketers, but the name of one Baba Sidhaye, also known as Yashwant Prabhakar – thought to be the very first deaf and mute cricketer to have taken the field – is one that falls through the cracks.
Playing at a time when cricketers used to be paid anything between Rs. 8 to Rs. 15 to appear in high-profile matches, Sidhaye was most well-known in his playing days as one of the best fielders in the country.
Consequently, he did not win many personal laurels, his legacy remaining alive more through tales of his feats that have travelled down ages by word of mouth. The film allegedly made on his life, Iqbal, won several awards however – without acknowledging that the story is inspired by Sidhaye’s real life struggles.
A hard-hitting batsman of the mould of Virender Sehwag, Sidhaye once reached a century within an hour, then a world record. It is also said that he had once hit a six into the Arabian Sea while playing a match at PJ Hindu Gymkhana in Marine Lines – one other feat that has not been matched since.
An attacking batsman and an agile fielder during his days, Baba Sidhaye played 42 Ranji matches for Maharashtra, Mumbai and Railways from 1952 to 1967-68. An occasional leg spin bowler, he has also taken 10 wickets.
Though he did not appear in any Tests, he represented his state and division teams against touring visiting teams like New Zealand (1958-59) and Australia (in 1959-60).
His contemporaries referred to him as "The Panther" because of his swift movement on the field and his accurate pick-up and throws which ran out many a batsmen.
Baba first and only born deaf and mute cricketer in India: Pravin Sidhaye
Sidhaye’s life is the ‘inspiration’ of the Nagesh Kukunoor’s film Iqbal, but no credit was given to him, alleges his son Pravin, talking to CricketNext.
"My father was the first deaf and mute cricketer to achieve this glory of having three world records to his name and it was authenticated by the Limca book of records. Not a single BCCI cricketer has these records and the movie Iqbal is completely based on my father's life.
“The main story is of a deaf and dumb, small-town boy residing in Pune, who dreams to play cricket for his national team and he fulfilled his dream in 1949. Iqbal is based on this two-line true story.
“The grave mistake Mr. Kukunoor made is by giving a false disclaimer before the film that there is no such dead or alive person available in the world. That's not true because Baba Sidhaye was very much there from 1931 to 2002.
"One of the world record is approved by Limca Book of Records as a National Record, which proves my claim that Baba Sidhaye is the first and only Deaf Mute cricket player in the world. It is a fact now that there is not a single by-birth deaf-mute cricketer in the world.
“BCCI has crores of rupees for cheer girls & for its officials, who have not held a bat in their lifetime but it doesn't have money for ex-players like Baba who have given their everything to cricket, not for years but some 5-6 decades," Pravin rued.
Sidhaye was involved in cricket in a coaching capacity after his playing days were over, his most famous ward being Balwinder Singh Sandhu, a member of the 1983 World Cup winning squad. His students have also made it into India’s handicapped cricket teams in recent years.
Baba born at wrong time: Pramodini Sidhaye
Baba’s wife, Pramodini Sidhaye, had submitted an online petition a few years ago where she had said:
“My husband Late Shri.Yashwant Prabhakar alias Baba Sidhaye is the first & only deaf and dumb by birth international cricketer in the world from India – the world record is not yet broken for the last 75 years history of BCCI and 60 years history of India.
“He was no.1 fielder in India from 1949 till 1966. He also played against all foreign teams viz.West Indies,Australia,New Zealand,England and Ceylon and faced fastest bowling attack on matting wickets without helmet and thigh guard & with cotton gloves. He has put in continuous cricket service in various capacities for 57 years.
“He used to hit 10-15 sixers in a match was his speciality.He played his cricket when TV sets were not available in India and it was India's bad luck that he was born at a wrong time otherwise in today's cricket he would have definitely been a Hero in Indian Cricket.”
A letter she had sent to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2009, a letter that is yet to reap any real returns – either in terms of money or recognition: