Dungarpur, a guiding force - Tendulkar
Tendulkar was speaking at the release of the the book Raj Singh Dungarpur - A Tribute, compiled and edited by Samar Singh and Harsh Vardhan, at the Cricket Club of India, Dungarpur's home in Mumbai ever since he came to Mumbai from his province in Rajasthan as a teenager.
"From a chairman of selectors to the manager of Indian team, I have had a relationship with Raj bhai at different levels," Tendulkar said. "First, he was encouraging me as a youngster and making sure that I got all the possible facilities. Then, picking me for a team and then travelling with me and guiding me."
"I remember, whenever we sat with him, he would have amazing stories of the past and share those wonderful anecdotes with us. All the players would be glued to him because we wanted to understand how the cricket was played in the past, different different eras. Not just that but when he was with the team, he was more of a father figure. Everyone looked up to him, everyone respected him, everyone wanted to be around him."
In an evening that turned out be a prolonged celebration of Dungarpur's life, especially since Tendulkar's arrival was delayed due to a technical snag in an inbound flight from Hyderabad, some of Dungarpur's closest friends revived the persona of the former Rajasthan captain who served Indian cricket in various capacities. Besides being the manager of the Indian team on various critical tours, including the 1984 trip to Pakistan when prime minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated midway through the tour, Dungarpur was also the chairman of the selectors. He later served as the BCCI president from 1996 to 1999.
It was Dungarpur who after being impressed with Tendulkar's heroics on the school circuit forced one of his protégés Kailash Gattani to take the teenager along on a schoolboys' tour to United Kingdom in the summer of 1988. While Gattani recalled how Dungarpur forced him to include Tendulkar in the touring party despite his apprehensions of "how a 14-year-old could cope with the UK culture where you have to carry your own kitbag, cook your own food and wash your clothes", Tendulkar recalled how Dungarpur organised sponsors for him.
"Kailash Gattani is also here with us, it was when you came to me and asked me if I would like to be a part of Star Cricket Club, which would be touring UK in the month of May. But I didn't have deep pockets," Tendulkar said.
"Raj bhai again was instrumental in finding a sponsor for me and making sure that I left on that plane. I clearly remember I met him here at the club and he said in his own style: "Tumhi cricket khelaayche, baakiche kaam maazyawarti sodaayche (you play cricket, leave the rest to me)". With that kind of support and encouragement, all you want to do is go out and score as many runs as possible because that is something which made him happy. If someone is taking so much effort to make sure that all the facilities are provided for you to go out and express yourself in the middle, it gave me tremendous joy to score in the final of the Harris Shield. I scored a triple hundred and I could see that Raj bhai was in his chair and various cricketers would join and have a chat with him. But while batting, he was already there and watching me bat, which was a big thing."
Tendulkar also recalled how Dungarpur helped him focus on the task at hand rather than thinking too much about selection issues. When Tendulkar had made a sensational first-class debut for Mumbai in 1988-89, he was expected to be included in India's squad for the tour to the West Indies. But it was Dungrapur, the chairman of selectors, who put an end to the speculation.
"We were playing Ranji Trophy semi-final at Wankhede. I was warming up early morning and there I saw Raj bhai walking next to the net and he called me outside the net and said, 'see, I want you to focus on Ranji Trophy right now. I know there have been a lot of talks on whether you should be part of the Indian team now or not. Let me tell now that you are not going to the West Indies'," Tendulkar said. "He was then the chairman of the selection committee. He said after you are finished with the Ranji Trophy, make sure you appear for your SSC exams."
While the gathering waited for Tendulkar, former India captain Ajit Wadekar recalled how he along with his Bombay teammates ensured Dungarpur's dream of Rajasthan beating Bombay and winning the Ranji Trophy title remained unfulfilled. In the 1960s, Rajasthan lost to Bombay in seven successive Ranji finals.
"That was Raj's lone dream. He even tried importing players from Mumbai to get the better of us and made greats like Vijay Manjrekar and Subhash Gupte play for Rajasthan as professionals. But by then, Manjrekar and Gupte were a bit over the hill and we in the Mumbai dressing room wondered who would field for them," Wadekar quipped.
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo