Ramakant AchrekarA student is only as good as their teacher. The old axiom says that if all fails, do what your teacher once told you. Even in the sport of cricket, it holds firm. On the special occasion of Teacher’s day, we take a minute to honour one of the most successful teachers to have graced the game – Padma Shri Ramakant Achrekar.Born in Maharashtra, Achrekar quickly found out that he was not cut out for playing the game. After a few initial failures, he moved on to a higher aspect of the game – coaching. In 1964, Achrekar sir began coaching with full zest, determined to bring about India’s future heroes, and he has never looked back.Basing his centre at Shivaji Park, Achrekar sir began a gruelling coaching session that was determined to bring out the very best in his students and the results have been there to see. He was awarded the Dronacharya Award for his services to cricket, as well as the prestigious Padma Shri.The best way that a teacher can be remembered is by remembering their students. So without much further ado, let us delve into five of Achrekar sir’s best pupils:
#1 Vinod Kambli
In the words of Ramakant Achrekar himself, Vinod Kambli’s attitude is his own enemy. Kambli’s aggressive batting and flashy lifestyle brought him onto cricket’s centre stage at a very young age. Partnering with Sachin Tendulkar, Kambli burst into prominence when they put on a 664-run partnership together at the age of 16. If Tendulkar was the watchful type, Kambli was anything but. He loved to go after the deliveries and bat with flamboyance.
Kambli was thrust into the Indian Test team in 1993 and impressed immediately. He scored consecutive double hundreds and then followed it up with another impressive century. An innings later, he scored another century, making it 4 totals of 100 or above in 5 innings. He also became the only cricketer to score three consecutive centuries against three different teams in three different countries.
Though he wasn’t as impressive in the ODIs, he still had two tons to his name. While his partner broke every record there was, Kambli’s life began to go in a downward spiral. A fondness for alcohol and disciplinary problems began as Kambli slowly started to go out of favour. Ramakant Achrekar watched sadly as his precious student became a nobody, and he played what turned out to be his last Test in 1995. He was never picked after 2000, and he retired soon after.
If Kambli’s coach would have been disappointed at anything, it would not have been Kambli’s eviction from the team, but his indifference to the game. Kambli would forever be Achrekar sir’s biggest what-if.
#2 Balwinder Singh Sandhu
If you made a list of Indian cricketers who impressed the most in a short career, Balwinder Sandhu would certainly be sitting amongst the top. He was one of the first bowlers under Coach Achrekar to make it big, but even he would agree that Sandhu didn’t perform his best. Though he only played for a short amount of time, Sandhu provided plenty of action-packed moments in Indian cricket history, and he will go down as a legend.
Sandhu was one of the first Indians to show that tail-enders could also bat. After picking up 2 wickets against Pakistan on debut, Sandhu blazed his way to 71 runs coming in at No. 9. The following month, he scored 68 against West Indies, which turned out to be the highest score of India’s innings. He also took a career best of 3-87 against them in Guyana.
Though he never showed a lot of pace with the ball, his stealthy in-swinger accounted for a lot of batsmen in his playing days, most famously Gordon Greenidge in the final of the 1983 World Cup, which India went on to win.
The tournament was Sandhu’s career highlight where the helpful English conditions helped his seam bowling as he continuously troubled the batsmen despite the lack of pace. He also shared a crucial 22 run partnership for the last wicket in the finals which helped India put up 183.
Sandhu was also a handful in India’s domestic circuit. He picked up 8 wickets and scored 56 runs for West Zone in the Duleep trophy. He then picked up a five-wicket haul in the Irani Trophy, which had triggered his induction into the India squad. He also scored 98 against Tamil Nadu in a Ranji semi-final.
#3 Sanjay Bangar
Another time period, another dibbly-dobbly pace bowler. Often preferring to shy away from the limelight, Sanjay Bangar was one of India’s best cricketers in the domestic circuit, and he continued to contribute to cricket after his retirement, by emerging as a coach and following the path of Achrekar Sir to help uncover India’s cricketing future.
Bangar’s career started with his induction into the Railways team in the Ranji Trophy. With a reputation for being a gutsy all-rounder, Bangar delivered when it mattered. He took Railways to consecutive finals at the beginning of the new millennium and helped them win the trophy in 2002.
His consistent performances helped him catch the eye of the Indian cricket team, who were desperately looking for an all-rounder on their tour to England. His impressive performances in the home series against Zimbabwe, which included a Test century at Nagpur convinced the selectors to pick him for the tour to England as an extra seamer, no doubt hoping that the swinging English conditions would be well suited for him.
But Bangar impressed more with the bat. He scored a patient 68 at Headingley, which enabled Sachin, Ganguly and Dravid himself to score centuries. Bangar also took two wickets to ensure that India had a rare away victory. It prompted Rahul Dravid to hail Bangar as one of the heroes of the match.
Though he later fell out of favour in the national side, he continued to play brilliantly in the domestic matches, becoming the only cricketer in history to have achieved a double of 6000 runs and 200 wickets in the Ranji Trophy.
After his retirement, Bangar immediately followed his second passion – coaching. He was in charge of the India A side and also served as a consultant in the NCA in Bangalore. Once the IPL began, Bangar coached the Kings XI Punjab team to their maiden final in 2012.
After the Indian team’s defeat in England, Bangar was named as an assistant coach, a job he continues till this day.
#4 Ajit Agarkar
During a time where Indian bowlers either had pace or swing, Ajit Agarkar showed that he had both. Agarkar retired as India’s third highest ODI wicket taker and was a more than handy lower order batsmen as well. Achrekar Sir’s opinion that he was a “brilliant prospect”, proved right, once again.
Though he was slight of build, he bowled with aggression and extracted tremendous swing and pace. He also got the ball to reverse, which made him a potent weapon with the old ball. With excellent numbers in the domestic competitions, Agarkar was picked for the ODI team in 1998. A plethora of wickets followed, and he became the then fastest to 50 ODI wickets.
His finest moment came in Adelaide in 2003, where he took 6/41 to lead India to a Test victory in Australia. Agarkar also recorded an ODI best of 6/42 against Australia at the MCG, though India went on to lose the match.
He scored 50 off 21 balls against Zimbabwe, and he was hailed as the next Indian all-rounder after the great Kapil Dev. He also holds a top score of 95 in ODIs, coming in at a surprise No. 3. He also made the news with seven ducks against Australia, a world record, but then redeemed himself with a century at Lord’s.
Several poor series results saw him being dropped from the side and though he made a brief comeback with India’s tour to England in 2007, Agarkar was permanently dropped from the side. He played domestic cricket with vigour, hoping for a call back to the national side, but it never came. He led Mumbai to two Ranji trophy wins, first with a 5-81 against Karnataka in 2010 and then as the captain in 2013.
#5 Sachin Tendulkar
Words are not enough to describe Achrekar Sir’s best pupil. A man who broke almost every batting record there was to break. The man who made the Indian team a force to be reckoned with. The man whose name is synonymous with cricket – Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar – is undoubtedly Achrekar Sir’s biggest contribution to world cricket.
Introduced to Achrekar Sir by his brother Ajit, Sachin quickly took to his strict tutelage and iron-clad discipline. Sachin was coached at Shivaji Park every morning and evening without fail as Achrekar was determined to make this kid big.
His defensive kinks were worked out, and his feet movements were mapped precisely. Achrekar Sir used to keep a rupee coin on a stump and challenge the bowlers to get Sachin out – the winner would get the coin, or Sachin would. That way, Sachin collected 13 such coins. His entry into the team was fully backed by his coach, and he never let him down.
Sachin’s cricket career is top draw stuff – 34357 international runs, 100 centuries and 164 half-centuries. He holds the record for scoring 1000 or more runs in 7 different years, and the record for the highest ODI runs in any year – 1894. He also has the most Man of the Match awards. He was the first player to score 10000 ODI runs, and the first to reach 200 runs in an ODI. He is simply India’s best ever batsman.
Even the most celebrated cricketers are merely students in the eyes of their coaches, and Achrekar sir grudgingly remarks that Sachin could have done better. Sachin never fails to mention Achrekar Sir while talking about his heroes, and routinely pays his respects to him. It is entirely possible that Achrekar Sir, with his teacher’s vision, saw a curly-haired boy play cricket in Shivaji Park, and knew then that he would be India’s biggest cricketing hero. He took him under his wing, and the rest was history.