Ground Reality

Mumbai's cricket cradle

How a small tin shed in central Mumbai produced some of India's finest players

Clayton Murzello
The Dadar Union Club scoreboard at Matunga Maidan, Mumbai

For years Dadar Union has operated out of a humble tin shed at their ground in Matunga.  •  Emma Levine

Dadar Union Sporting Club used to be known as the king of Mumbai cricket clubs. It represented dominance, it stood for discipline, and it always produced terrific players, most of whom went on to wear the lion-crested Mumbai cap. Play for Dadar Union, play for Mumbai, they used to say. Indeed, your chances of playing for Mumbai went up even if you scored or claimed wickets against Dadar Union. And some of those Dadar Union players were good enough to play for India as well.
The club rose to prominence through sheer discipline, determination, and dedication - qualities commonly associated with its most famous product, Sunil Gavaskar. The loyalty that Dadar Union inspired was legendary. Sanjay Jaywant, a former player with the club, recalls being taken by surprise to see Gavaskar turn up for a game scarcely hours after having returned, in the wee hours of the morning, from a stint at Somerset. "He was one of the first to arrive, and there to greet us good morning," Jaywant said. "I am not sure whether I wanted to play more for Dadar Union or India," Gavaskar says of his association with the club. "Dadar Union taught me to respect the game and its tradition. It taught me discipline and it gave direction to my cricket. It made me more focused and taught me that each match has its own ebb and flow, and to be prepared for the unexpected for that's what the great game can do - spring a surprise when you least expect it. I wouldn't have been the player I was if not for Dadar Union Sporting Club."
Unfortunately the club is no more the force it once was, and currently figures - like several erstwhile champion sides - in the B division of the Dr HD Kanga Cricket League. Sandeep Patil calls it the biggest irony in Mumbai cricket, and is convinced that the decline of Mumbai cricket is linked to the fact that Dadar Union does not produce players of quality the way it used to in the good old days. But the fact remains that Dadar Union has been one of Mumbai's most successful clubs, and no side, apart perhaps from National Cricket Club, can boast of having dominated the city's cricket in such fashion.
Formed in 1927, Dadar Union's first taste of Kanga glory came in 1951, when they shared top honours with Jolly Cricketers. Sunder Cricket Club (who won the championship in the inaugural year, 1948) won in 1952, 1954 and 1956, but Dadar Union came back strongly at the end of the decade, winning in 1958 and 1959.
Much of the club's superiority in those days can be attributed to their captain, Madhav Mantri, the former India wicketkeeper-batsman, who played for Dadar Union till he turned 50, before moving to the neighbouring Dadar Parsee Zoroastrian CC.
The 1970s were a golden era for Dadar Union. Gavaskar's emergence on the world stage was a big boost to the club's reputation. From 1973 to 1976, playing under Vasu Paranjape, Dadar Union did not let any other side lay their hands on the Kanga League A division pennant.
Another four titles followed in the 1980s before the club's name stopped appearing on the A division roll of honour in Kanga League booklets. By then they had won 12 titles in the championship. And that wasn't all. Paranjape informs that Dadar Union won the Purshottam and Talim Shields five times in a row, and the Comrade Shield nine in a row.
Dadar Union's clashes with Shivaji Park were the Mumbai version of Yorkshire v Lancashire, the Battle of the Roses. They attracted huge Sunday crowds - among them the distinguished and famous, from politicians to University vice-chancellors.
Patil, a boy then, served as a scoreboard operator for some of those games. "I was fortunate since my father captained the Gymkhana, but I still had to grab my seat near the scoreboard early enough," he says. "It was like getting to the movies on release day."
The club is now managed by Vithal Patil, a reputed swing bowler in his time (though he only got to play two games for Mumbai), who has the distinction of having taken 759 wickets for Dadar Union in the Kanga League.
Classic matches
Former Mumbai cricketer Avadhoot Zarapkar, a Dadar Union player in the 1970s and 1980s, remembers playing for a star-studded Bombay University side against a Dadar Union team led by Paranjape in 1974. "We were playing at Grant Medical College and the wicket was soft, so our captain decided to put Dadar Union in. We had Dilip Vengsarkar, Sandeep Patil, Suru Nayak and Vijay Mohan Raj. Their team included Sunil Gavaskar, Ramnath Parkar and Vithal Patil.
We thought we had them grounded at 92 for 5, but Vasu declared. We were shocked. I remember Sandeep asking whether Vasu thought we were a popatwadi [inferior] team. We were soon to find out. Urmikant Mody and Vithal Patil took five apiece to dismiss us for 55."
Paranjape's reason for the declaration was simple. "There was a match to be won," he recalls. "If our team - which included a certain Sunil Gavaskar - found it so difficult to score, then the opposition would struggle too, though they were a very good side."
Austin Coutinho, a former Mumbai probable, and now known for his cricket cartoons, remembers another great game, in which his team, Young Maharashtra, took on Dadar Union in 1981. "In a newspaper article which previewed our game, Pradeep Vijayakar of The Times of India wrote that Dadar Union should watch out for Sandeep Walawalkar and myself," he recalls. "We were inspired and claimed five wickets apiece to bowl out Dadar Union for 35. But then we were dismissed for 34."
Another thriller came four years later, against the Karnatak Sporting Association at Cross Maidan. Karnatak scored 116 (former India seamer Balwinder Singh Sandhu made 50) and then bowled Dadar Union out for 115.
Those were the days
Manjrekar v Paranjape: When Shivaji Park Gymkhana legend Vijay Manjrekar heard that his son Sanjay was being wooed by Dadar Union, he was naturally concerned. Dadar Union's Paranjape, though, saw it rather differently. "If he plays for Gymkhana he will be more of a card player," he ribbed Manjrekar senior, "whereas here he will become a good cricketer."
"It was superbly handled by Vasu," Sanjay Manjrekar himself remembers. "He was one of the few people who could actually argue with my father. I remember the words: 'Tat [Vijay Manjrekar's nickname], don't be childish.' "In any case I wouldn't have played for Shivaji Park Gymkhana because making it for Dadar Union was my big ambition. I was inspired by Sunil Gavaskar and Dilip Vengsarkar, and wouldn't have missed an opportunity to play in the same club as them."
Neighbours and foes: Dadar Union and Shivaji Park Gymkhana were on either side of Tilak Bridge in Dadar. "My father told me that the Britishers used to practice at Matunga and so their obsession for correct technique somehow rubbed off on the Dadar Union players,"
Sandeep Patil recalls, "while we at Shivaji Park were the more flamboyant, aggressive type.
"The rivalry grew on me. I was an out and out Shivaji Park supporter. When I played for the Gymkhana, I hated to lose to Dadar Union. It was a special feeling playing them. Ashok Mankad watched me getting 90-odd against them at the PJ Hindu Gymkhana and I got picked for Mumbai, so performing against them and beating them meant a lot."
The ground
For years Dadar Union has operated out of a humble tin shed at their ground in Matunga. It is a travesty that, for all practical purposes, a club of this stature does not have a home ground: thanks to encroachments, the side have been forced to play many of their games at neutral venues.
Former Test skipper Dilip Vengsarkar has been campaigning for resurrecting the club. The restoration work of the club building began in November 2011, and the shed will be replaced with a small club house. Mumbai's cricket lovers feel this will only be fitting, considering the influence the club has had on the game in the city.

Clayton Murzello is Group Sports Editor for Mid-Day