Saturday, October 31, 2009

It takes all sorts!

About a couple of weeks back , with the hope of reviving my cricket career , I reported for selections for my ‘office’ team. Bowled a few deliveries till my body start acting up. But the coup de grace to my plans was the fear I encountered when I was about to pad up.

“What if I get hit on the fingers ? Who does the flying then ? I don’t even have a helmet , what if a beamer comes my way ? An abdomen guard is nowhere in sight , can’t risk my family jewels .. Can i ?”

And so I chickened out , got back into the car and got back home. That incident again got me thinking about all those years at TSEC spent living cricket.

What follows next is an abridged version of the memories , the people , their idiosyncracies and contributions to the team. An effort to tell a Gautam Burye why Vivek Hadkar was one of the best we had. My endeavour to join different generations of the team together.

Ravi Manshramani : ‘’Mere jaisa pull shot koi aisa waisa batsman nahi khel sakta’’ were his oft repeated immortal lines. Mansha claimed to be the best when it came to pulling short balls (no pun intended). He was the second captain I played under , someone who would start discussing about match strategies and team composition on the midnight before the match. No amount of chopping and changing or innovative team selection would be of any use cause we would always end up losing rather pathetically.

Our man Mansha was a supremely confident player , very excitable and dedicated to the team’s cause. He also had exceptional control of the new ball , bowling delivery after delivery on the same good length spot. No wonder he was probably the most economical pacer I played with. He had very good skills with the bat too (as is known by his hooking and pulling ability) , but was seldom able to make use of it during important matches.

Vivek Hadkar : ‘Angaar’ .. His favourite word .. A word that would describe his batting and his persona the best. If raw talent were ever the measure of ones greatness , then Babboo would be the the greatest ever. Scored some of the best 20s and 30s we saw. His attack against an angry, super sonic SBMJC pace battery is a part of TSEC folklore (even though nothing like that exists). Also etched forever in our memories is the way he charged towards their dressing room threatening to kill everyone with the bat , on being given out wrongly. The best innings he played was in his last match for the college , in the finals of the event at Nair , guiding the team to our first ever tournament victory. He had a very different , almost ‘Mike Procter’ish bowling action which helped him produce those useful spells. Though it could get quite exasperating to see him waste all the promising starts and not amass the runs he could have.

Sachin Rathod : Thanks to all the year drops he had , he must’ve played with the most number of people in the team. His West Indian looks were accentuated by his big backlift , and his devil-may-care cross batted slogging. Never saw him score too many runs for the college team , but am told he was the cornerstone of three consecutive Intra wins for the Chem-Biomed team, before my batch came in. While he was an excellent keeper , the greatest entertainment he provided was in BITS-Pilani , where he had carried 24 bottles of mineral water assuming that Pilani being in parched Rajasthan wouldn’t have enough supply of water !! He even took part in the power lifting event at BITS , and mistakingly asked for 80kgs of weight to be added to the bar , confusing it with pounds. (1 pound = 2.2kgs by the way ) . The sequence that followed was one of the funniest any of us had ever witnessed.

Avin Ramani : Being the typical TSEC cricketer that Avin was , he too had to waste all the all round talent at his disposal. At first we used to identify Avin as the guy from the Comps-IT team who could at will keep bowling one lethal yorker after another. Now when I think back , he even had a Wasim Akramish look about him. He made his imposing presence felt in our first match at BITS , where he smashed a fifty of a mere 20 balls. Ours was a 60 run partnership , off which he scored 54 runs !!

His pre match speeches would never fail to stir us up , often giving us goose bumps. Though under him , our performances could never follow the big talking before the match. Avin scored heavily in his final year especially after he got promoted to the opening spot. Bhai lead Comps-IT to two consecutive intra finals , winning one of the events. He can also lay claim to having pataoed , the prettiest girl to visit BITS Pilani (read Michelle from JaiHind).

Ashish Pawar : This guy could bowl fast. Genuinely fast ... He could hit far .. Very far .. And he could crib and whine , more than any girl ever has. Nothing could be more entertaining than standing at point , watching Redya bowl six continuous bouncers at those LTCOE batsmen , injuring and terrorising them. My favourite player in the team. Though he always had to be prodded to bowl at those speeds , often starting off his spells with slow over pitched hit-me deliveries. Ashish took two hattricks while playing for the college , but we still ended up losing both those matches. The fatso was the superstar of my FE team , winning us the league matches and then alongwith Saif decimating the opposition in the finals at Khar Gymkhana, with the two of them scoring 246 runs between them in the last 15 overs of our innings !! His last few matches were a sad story of repeated overstepping of the bowling crease , loss of confidence and with it , his pace and effectiveness.

Abhishek Mankar: After Ashish was done with his spell , the opposing batsmen would face an even dangerous bowler. Sheik – Abhi – Shakey ... If not faster , Abhishek was just as fast as Ashish. Even though very erratic with his line of attack , Abhishek on his day could clean up the best of the batting line ups , like he did in our FE intra finals , getting seven wickets for twenty something runs. He even got those MCA batsmen at Khar Gym quivering.

The tussle between him and Mohnish , the best batsman in the DJ Sanghvi team used to be something that I would relish viewing. Albeit on most occasions Mohnish proved to be his nemesis. Sheik was the absolute badshah of tennis ball cricket , winning several man of the series prizes in the local tournaments held in and around Azad Maidan. Our slinger deservedly captained the Comps team to Intra glory in his final year , with he himself producing a superlative batting performance in the finals.

Pranav Gandhi : If they call Bishen Singh Bedi ‘Poetry in Action‘ , Pranav was the pace version of the same. And the resemblance with the sardar didn’t end with just the beautiful bowling action. Like Bedi , Pranav had an opinion on everything , often outrageous.

Every team needs a Pranav Gandhi .. Every successful team has a Pranav Gandhi.. The guy who with his wit would lighten up tense moments during the course of the match , and come up with some unbelievably imaginative Hindi abuses. A skiddy , stump to stump bowler , Pranav was a very dependable yet unheralded member of the team. Never approved of my cautious approach to batting , and always wanted me to plant my leg across the line of the ball and swat it to the mid wicket boundary , irrespective of where the ball was pitched. Another one who saw the worst of times with the cricket team , dirtied his hands and helped mould a winning team.

Chirag Tandon : His classmates named him ‘Iqbal’ after that favourite movie character. To me Chika was the backbone of our batting line up , with a consistency to match that of Rahul Dravid’s. Made a late entry into the college team after a score of 70 something in the intra finals in the second year. Thereafter , he never looked back , shoring up the innings innumerable number of times. Chirag was an excellent fielder and a blatant chucker when it came to bowling, a fact that he would never agree to.

Chika always dreamt of captaining the college side , something that he never told anyone and something that thanks to me , never happened.

Mayur Sharma : Confused. Hard working. Extremely keen. Always unlucky. Sharma used to be a steady medium pacer for the college team , who would always have catches dropped off his bowling. Had to make way for faster and more exciting talent in the later stages. Bowled especially well with the new ball during our FE days. His best moment was the unexpected and breath taking 48 in next to nothing balls that he scored against Chem-EXTC to almost take us to an unlikely win. Started sobbing uncontrollably on not being able to hit the six off the last ball that would have seen us through to the finals.

Nishank Gopalkrishnan : My best friend in TSEC and the college team. Nishank would either get out on the second ball that he faced , or would play the most pleasing of innings one would witness. He was Hadkar’s partner in that blistering counter attack against SBMJC. Thoughts of that leaning on one knee cover drive of his still keep flashing every now and then. His best performance was a 40 ball 66 at the KEM ground. For some absurd reasons , preferred working for the IEEE instead of playing cricket for the college. A fact that I absolutely hated. Nishank was also the worst in the business , when it came to running between the wickets. Was very VVS Laxman like in his cricket..

Darryl Lowe : The fact that he played just two matches for TSEC and is still being mentioned here speaks volumes about the man. An idol for guys like me and Nishank. Scored a 40 on his debut and a match winning 96 in his second match. It was this innings of his which laid the platform for the reversal in fortunes of the team , made us realise that scoring big runs didn’t mean getting a 30 or a 40 only. He was a heavy scorer in intra competitions, a very good keeper and thinker too. Clearly remember him asking , requesting , urging me to bowl the offspinner in the sixth over of the match. Glad I paid heed to his advice , what with Chander (the said offie) getting the dangerman off his first ball itself. Unfortunately , cricket could never become his favourite sport , and we could never convince him to score runs instead of scoring goals.

Deepak Tolani : Ten on ten for dedication. Eleven on ten for his efforts. And one on ten for his running between the wickets. Deepak was my opponent in the innumerable cricketing debates we’ve had, ranging from arguments about the team composition , the bowling changes and his (lack of) ability while bowling. In spite of being out of the side for major part of his early days , Deepak would always be ready to help the team in any which way. His fielding came by leaps and bounds in the last couple of years ala Navjot ‘Jonty Singh’ Sidhu. All the effort and thinking about the game finally paid dividends when he amassed all those runs in my final Intra tournament (2005). But the sad part is , for all the good things Deepak did , I remember him most for playing that lofted drive straight into the deep cover’s hands. The shot that lost us the match against Jai Hind B team (yes .. B team) by a mere 3 runs !

Narendra Gyanchandani : Nari shot to fame with a hard hitting performance in his first intra tournament. Almost killed me with a bullet straight drive off my bowling. He has the distinction of scoring the first century for TSEC. A maddening one at that ... Throwing his bat at every ball , hitting the ball to all corners of the Cross Maidan , with the hapless DJ Sanghvi bowlers and the shopping crowd at Fashion Street copping his fury. Sadly he couldn’t recreate that magic on a regular basis. A fact for which he blames me , for having not given him enough opportunities to bat higher in the order.

Distinctly remember a particular intra match where he charged down the track to me , seeing which I bowled a bouncer ( u read it right.. A BOUNCER..better believe that ) . He ended up so far ahead that the keeper ran him out. Throughly enjoyed the send off I gave him for having attempted to come down the track to me... Nari had his back though , in the same match, using the very same gaaaliyan that I’d given him once I returned back to the pavilion.

He also had a super strong arm which was responsible for him gifting us two critical run outs , with him throwing the ball right into the wicket keepers gloves from the deep cover boundary.

Ronak Shah : He hated his name being printed as ‘Raunak’ on the sports certificates. Minimal run up , quick arm action.. and some really menacingly fast bowling. Preferred playing in his ‘Gujju-kuttchi samaj’ leagues instead of playing for the college. Was mortally afraid of taking high catches. Came into his own after the likes of Ashish-Pranav-Sheik passed out.

Hardik Thakkar : Banana inswingers at an uncomfortable chest height were his forte. Formed a very effective opening bowling partnership with Ronak. Like Pranav was a hard hitting batsman , who never got to bat above no. 8 , thanks to my non ability to recognise talent. Would endlessly ( and often pointlessly ) argue about any and everything. To him Ganguly was the worst thing that had happened to Indian cricket..

Sahil Bhatia : Every now and then you come across people who excel at everything they do .. Bhatia was one such guy. Even if it were carrying the drinks bottle or retrieving the ball from outside the boundary , Bhatia had a class about him. Two time sportsman of the year award winner .. Sahil was a champion swimmer , a decent tt player and a batsman who could play the best backfoot punch you would ever see. Though never in the limelight when playing for the cricket team , Bhatia always came up with handy contributions , almost single handedly winning us that emotional semi-finals against SPCE.

Ameya Waigankar : Waingi .. Was the heir apparent from day one itself. While he scored a classy 46 on his debut , everyone who was present at Oval Maidan that day would remember the match for his bowling. An eight ball over in which the ball mustve bounced atleast 48 times before reaching the batsman. 6 times on each of the occasions.. Claimed ( and still claims) to have played for India Under-14.. Something that I’ve never believed.. Was that typical hard nosed , well trained , knowledgeable Mumbai cricketer. Had an understanding of the game and the match situation like no one else. Captaincy brought the best out of him while he managed to get the best from the team , a fact highlighted by the number of tournament victories under him. Scoring multitude of runs and spinning a web with that Vettori like orthodox left armers. An aspect often forgotten about him was his fielding. He had the safest pair of hands in the slip , and also effected some amazing run outs. No one could play the on drive against the turn like he could.

Siddesh Nadkarni : The best opener that TSEC ever saw. Period !

Alongwith Gautam he was THE reason for the turn around called TSEC Cricket. Scored more runs in one season than I did in my four yrs. I had the privilege of witnessing most of his innings from the non strikers end. We would always claim to be the best when it came to running between the wickets. One fine day after passing out , I’d decided to watch the TSEC vs RAIT match at VJTI.. And was treated to an innings of 188 by this 5 footer.

Spunk and arrogance defined his batting.. And street smart intelligence was the hallmark of his seam bowling. A major reason for the success of our opening partnerships would be the fun we used to have in the middle together. Picking up fights with opposition fielders (Milind et al ) , ridiculing the bowlers and challenging each other with our run aggregates.

Harshraj Madan : The offspinner turned wicketkeeper turned no. 3 batsman is what one calls an asset. One with a never say die spirit , extreme aggression and the drive for success. Always ready to volunteer for any responsibility Harshraj would wear his heart on his sleeve, and give his all everytime , always. Though he suffered a minor slump in form midway with his bowling, his wicket keeping and batting helped him contribute to the team. Again someone who blossomed under Ameya’s captaincy getting those big scores and wickets too.

Atharva Samant : Someone who wouldn’t catch your eye with his cricketing skills or his looks. But Atharva always had a bevy of girls around him , and me as a fan of his selfless efforts and readiness to learn. A handy lower order batsman and a skilful wicketkeeper. He could yell out the most hilarious of one liners from the pavilion taking a gibe at the opposition, sending the batsmen in the middle into splits and leaving the bowling team red faced. One from the Kiran More school of cricket.. Atharva often got into tussles with the opposition batsmen because of his excitable nature and inability to stay quiet. Almost slapped the SPCE wicket keeper on getting stumped by him after he had challenged Samant to advance down the track.

Gautam Burye : By far the best thing to have happened to our cricket team. He was a captain’s dream. Whenever you needed a wicket , you turned to Gautam. Whenever the run scoring had to be put a lid on , you turned to Gautam. Whenever you needed important runs down the order , you looked at him. And never did he disappoint.. I guess the only time he did disappoint was when he dint turn up for the match at KEM against DJ , and we got bashed by Mohnish and Co. Captained the FE side which nearly managed to pull off the unthinkable. An Intra victory for a FE side. Something that only MY FE team has managed (yeah.. I am proud of them ).

I’d lost count of the number of times he got those match winning five wicket hauls.. Especially remember a mesmerising spell of spin bowling by him and Harsh where they conceded twelve runs off eight overs to a batting line up that had in the previous eight overs scored 70 for none. Add his batting performances to the stingy wicket taking bowling , Gautam was the ‘Darryl Lowe’ of TSEC cricket. Infact at the cost of sounding blasphemous , someone even better than Darryl !!

( For the uninitiated Lowe was the most prolific goal scorer TSEC has and probably will see )

Gautam took over the captaincy from Waingi and had a reasonably fruitful tenure, though he could not replicate the unprecedented success that Ameya had.

The TSEC cricket experience was enriched even more by guys like :

Ashwin Araokar – who was the best full toss bowler in the world.

Sanket Thorat – who made me realise what a mediocre job I was doing at the top of the order , by replacing me in that position , matching Siddhesh’s audacious shot making and on occasions out scoring him.

Kaivan Sanghvi – the guy with a big appetite for runs and a bigger appetite for talking on the cell phone.

Mitesh Bhavsar – my first captain , who angrily threw the ball on my chest when I criticised his lack of run scoring.

Sunil Naryani – the guy who had to several times bear the brunt of my frustration on getting dismissed for a low score yet again.

Chander Shivdasani – whom I had laid so much faith on , but could never get the best out of.

Neil Shivdasani – Our funny FE wicketkeeper. He never stopped cribbing about broken fingers and keeping wickets in the Pilani heat.

Final Words :

While a majority of them were exceptional performers in a lot of other fields too the piece above talks about the men mostly through the cricketing perspective only.

Thanks to their efforts and passion all of us have something to look back at with fond memories and moist eyes.

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