Remembering Ajit Wadekar, Indian Captain of ‘The Class of 1971’

Farokh Engineer, Gundappa Viswanath, Dilip Vengsarkar share memories of former India captain Ajit Wadekar.

Updated
Cricket
3 min read

Cameraperson: Sanjoy Deb
Video Editor:
Deepthi Ramdas

From the maidans of Mumbai to The Oval in London, Ajit Wadekar conquered many new frontiers in his career as an Indian cricketer and also as captain.

On 15 August 2018, following a prolonged illness, he passed away in his home in Mumbai at the age of 77.

While the family he left behind remembers him as a loving husband, a devoted father and a caring grandfather, Ajit Wadekar to the cricket fraternity is the man who taught India to win.

Under him, India won their first-ever Test series against the ‘unbeatable’ West Indies at their home turf, and then later that summer of 1971, he led India to a victory at The Oval and a first-ever Test series win in England.

In his 37-Test-long international career, Wadekar scored 2,113 Test runs with 14 half centuries and a century and also led India to a third successive series victory, beating England once again in 1972-73.

He also appeared in two One-day Internationals.

An aggressive left-handed batsman, Wadekar made his first class debut in 1958-59 before making his India debut in 1966-67.

“I always said he played for the country very late. He should have played for India much earlier. The amount of runs he scored before making his India debut is unbelievable,” said Gundappa Viswanath while speaking at his former skipper’s memorial service organised by the BCCI in Mumbai.

“I played cricket with ‘Jitiya’, I used to call him and he used to call me ‘Rookie’ and we had such healthy rivalry right since our College days. We played for Podar and Ruia and Ruia always got the better of Podar due to one man alone. That was Ajit Wadekar,’ said former Indian wicket-keeper Farokh Engineer while also reminiscing about Wadekar’s skills at first slip.

‘We played for Mumbai around the same time and it was more difficult getting into the Mumbai team those days than getting in the Indian team.  I was behind the stumps and he was at first slip and I used to joke with him in Marathi and he used to respond back in Gujarati.’

Among his many achievements, one of Wadekar’s most prominent contributions to Indian cricket would have to be when he led India to a victory at The Oval. Despite having never won a single match in England, India chased down 173 after conceding a first innings deficit of 71 runs to win the match by 4 wickets. Wadekar was the tour’s highest-scorer for India and made a valuable 45 in the final chase. But it was also how he inspires players, especially Vishwanath, that his team-mates remember fondly.

Talking about the 1971 and the Test which we won. We needed 170-odd to win the Test match and Ajit just told me, ‘I am not bothered about what you have done earlier, I want that till the scoreboard comes to 180, I don’t want to see you in the dressing room.’ As Sunny said, you never knew when his jokes were serious but I took it seriously because we wanted to win the Test match very, very badly. So we had a partnership and I scored 30-odd runs but didn't hit a single boundary in my innings. Because of Ajit, he told me that singles would do the job,’ said Gundappa Viswanath.

(This story is from The Quint’s archives and is now being republished to mark Ajit Wadekar’s birth anniversary.)

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