'Only because Mantri persisted could I play for India'
Madhav Mantri suffered a fatal heart attack and the age of 92. He was a strict disciplinarian, an astute judge of talent and a father-figure whose praise was highly sought after.
Terming Madhav Mantri's death a "personal loss", former India captain Ajit Wadekar said that he might never have played for India but for Mantri. "During the selection committee meeting for India's Test series against West Indies (in 1966), it was Mantri who proposed my name when the last batsman's slot was being discussed," Wadekar recalled. "But neither the selectors nor the captain, Tiger Pataudi, were convinced. It was he who continued to fight for me and since there was no consensus, the selectors broke for lunch.
"During the lunch break, he took Pataudi aside and convinced him, saying I was a consistent performer for Mumbai for almost a decade and deserved a chance. Immediately after the resumption of the meeting, Pataudi told the selectors 'I would like to go for Ajit Wadekar'. Only because he (Mantri) persisted could I play for India."
Wadekar was among the opposition during Mantri's final first-class game, a social initiative to promote small savings scheme. Earning Mantri's praise was a precious achievement for a budding Mumbai cricketer. "I was fortunate to get complimented by him all along my career, despite being from Shivaji Park," Wadekar said. "Even though he was a loyal Dadar Union cricketer all his life, he never held himself back from praising a quality cricketer."
Tendulkar gave solemn tribute to Mantri ahead of Mumbai Indians' clash with Delhi Daredevils at Wankhede stadium. "It's a huge loss to cricketing world," Tendulkar said. "I can literally count on my fingers the people who are as passionate about cricket as Mantri sir was. We will miss you, sir." Mantri was India's manager during Tendulkar's first tour of England in 1990.
Bapu Nadkarni, the former India left-arm spinner, said Mantri was a major influence on his cricketing career. "All the cricketing rituals that have been performed on me were by Madhav Mantri and Polly Umrigar. I consider myself very fortunate to have been able to play with both of them," Nadkarni said.
"Mantri was a self-disciplined person, both on and off the field. And he didn't like his disciplined life to be disturbed at all. During the playing days, he had set a few rules for the whole team to parade with him at a particular time. And no one could dare not to say no to him, or skip the parade even for a single day."
Mantri often said self-discipline was a secret for his health. He was so fit that even at 92, he climbed almost 30 steps to the Wankhede Stadium dressing room to congratulate Maharashtra minutes after their victory over Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy quarterfinal in January.
Mantri was noted for leading an austere lifestyle. Yet his old school habits did not deter youngsters looking up to him. One among those admirers was Sandeep Patil, former Mumbai and India batsman and currently the chairman of national selection committee. "Nana mama (uncle) as we all called him is no more," Patil said. "It was just recently I was sitting next to him watching the Mumbai-Maharashtra Ranji Trophy match, listening to his great old stories with pleasure. His second name was discipline. He was like a jackfruit, hard and rough to look at from outside but very soft and sweet from inside. He was like one institution."
Madhav Apte, a close contemporary, cannot forget his first encounter with Mantri in 1945. "I played against him for the first time in a Purshottam Shield match where I was playing for Jolly Cricket Club. I was 13 years old, an aspiring legspinner and he hammered me and shattered my confidence. He never forgot to remind me of decades later," Apte, a former Mumbai captain who played seven Tests for India, said.
The Mantri and Apte's association traced back to their days in Elphinstone College. Mantri was also Apte's coach at the college. In 1951-52, Mantri shared century-stand for the opening stand with Apte against Holkar to lead Mumbai to a massive 531-run victory. "Discipline was part of his nature, somewhat eccentric I would say. But he was a shrewd judge of the game. He was very good captain: tight field placements, smart changes of bowling. He was a keen and passionate follower of the game," Apte said.
"It was a memorable moment for all of us," Surendra Bhave, the Maharashtra coach, said about the victory over Mumbai earlier this year. "For him to come all the way to the dressing room and congratulate us was a big boost for each member of the unit. He told the boys, 'You have beaten your arch-rivals, now don't stop till you win the final'. Though the team fell just one step short, everyone in the room will remember Mantri's zest and his words of advice all our lives."
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
Nagraj Gollapudi is assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo