Ramakant Achrekar not only coached the young, curly-haired Sachin Tendulkar. He ferried the future master across Bombay on his scooter, ensuring that his ward managed to get as much match practice as possible. If he did well, the lad was rewarded with bhel puri and pani puri.
The small kid, with his endearingly curly hair tucked away under a cap, used to be whisked across the streets of Bombay, perched on the back of a scooter. It was still Bombay back then.
The man who used to weave through the Bombay traffic had no idea that the lad would grow up to become the greatest batsman of India, and one of the greatest ever in cricket. But, he had the uncanny knack of sensing greatness even as it lay undiscovered and latent in an eleven-year-old.
Hence, ever since the boy’s elder brother, Ajit, had brought him over to his coaching academy, the coach had not left any stone unturned … or in this case, uncovered by the tires of his scooter … to ensure that he got all the hours at the crease that he needed. That is why he ferried him from one corner of Bombay to another, ensuring that he played as many matches as possible, making special arrangements for him to sometimes bat in three different matches in a day. If the kid did well on the field, the coach treated him to bhel puri or pani puri.
Almost three decades later, the day after the completion of Sachin Tendulkar’s final and 200th Test match at the Wankhede Stadium, in the city now called Mumbai, he knocked on the door of Ramkant Achrekar. That was the name of the man who had ferried him around Bombay all those years earlier. The great man who had most of the batting records in international cricket under his belt, including the maximum number of runs and centuries in Test cricket and One Day Internationals, had made his way to visit his first coach, to ‘mark the fact that we had come full circle’.
Achrekar, then 83 and paralysed since the late 1990s, did not speak much … but Tendulkar ‘thought that he was happy.’ He had reason to be.
The wards that had come out of his cricket coaching stables were many. They included names like Chandrakant Pandit, Pravin Amre, Vinod Kambli, Ajit Agarkar, Ramesh Powar and Sameer Dighe, all of whom had gone on to represent India. But Tendulkar was special. Just as the coach had realised the potential of the kid and had nurtured it along the way, the genius knew that it had been an enormous privilege to have been coached by this famed teacher.
Achrekar knew what Tendulkar needed. Perhaps because he himself had started playing cricket since the age of 11, the same age his famous student was when he was handed over for tutelage.
He was a useful cricketer himself, playing mostly for various clubs in Bombay, especially Gul Mohar Mills and Mumbai Port. He also played one First-Class game. It was in the quarter-final of the Moin-ud-Dowlah Gold Cup of 1963-64, and he represented State Bank of India against Hyderabad Cricket Association at Lal Bahadur Shastri Stadium, Hyderabad. There were eight current and future Test cricketers in the State Bank side: Vijay Mehra with whom he opened the first innings, Hanumant Singh, Ajit Wadekar, Ramesh Saxena, AG Milkha Singh, Baloo Gupte, Ravinder Pal and VV Kumar. The side was led by the Bombay stalwart Sharad Diwadkar. Yes, it was serious cricket.
Achrekar was not successful in his only First-Class game. He fell to Test star ML Jaisimha, caught by another future Test star Abid Ali, for just 1 run in the first innings. In the second, batting down the order, he got 27.
It was quite by accident that Achrekar took up coaching. He was a secretary of the New Hind Club, where Achrekar’s father had played alongside the Laxman Manjrekar, the father of Vijay Manjrekar. In 1964, left-arm spinner Suresh Shastri, later a First-Class umpire, had been a student at the school Dayanand Balak Vidyalaya. He had approached Achrekar for permission to use the New Hind Club ground for cricket practice. Achrekar had agreed, and had also regularly visited the ground once his day’s work at the State Bank was over. Instinctively, he had advised the schoolboys about the flaws in their techniques.
That year, Dayanand had surprisingly reached the finals of the Harris Shield. Achrekar was approached by one of the trustees of the school to become a full-time cricket coach. Achrekar accepted the request to coach, but refused the money.
With time, he found another club, Kamat Memorial, based at Shivaji Park. That became the headquarters where he operated.
It was at Shivaji Park that talent was spotted by him, where they were given shape to become finished products. Later, of course, he coached at the Shardashram Vidya Mandir, the school that saw Tendulkar, Kambli and Amre pass through its gates.
It was this work at Shivaji Park that got Achrekar the Dronacharya award in 1990, and then the Padma Shri in 2010.
Later he also became a selector of the Mumbai cricket team and was for a long time a member of the Mumbai Cricket Association.
Having suffered a stroke in 2013, Achrekar spent the last few years of his life under scrupulous medical supervision. He passed away on January 2, 2019.