MUMBAI: Indian cricket heroes on Thursday paid tribute to Ajit Wadekar, who led the country to their first series triumphs in England and the West Indies, following his death at the age of 77.
“He will always be remembered as the ‘renaissance man’ of Indian cricket,” said Board of Control for Cricket in India chief executive Rahul Johri, after it was announced that Wadekar had died in hospital in Mumbai following a long illness.
Johri added: “The West Indies and England were two extremely strong teams and beating them in their backyard was almost impossible.”
The batsman led India to their famous victories in 1971 and overall scored 2,113 runs in just 37 Test matches, including one century.
Wadekar was the first captain of India’s one-day team and he went on to become a powerbroker as coach, manager and chairman of the Indian selectors and mentor to future stars.
Indian legends from Sachin Tendulkar to Mohammed Azharuddin and Anil Kumble all paid tribute to Wadekar’s influence in India’s rise to become a cricket superpower.
“He was someone who was instrumental in bringing out the best in us during the 90s. We’ll always be grateful for his advice and guidance,” said Tendulkar.
“Wadekar Sir,” as he was known, was manager of the Indian side in which Tendulkar flourished as an opener. Azharuddin also thrived as India’s captain from 1993 to 1996 under Wadekar’s guidance.
Azharuddin said that Wadekar had been “iconic” and a “father figure for me .. May his soul rest in peace.”
Kumble, who made his comeback to the Indian team in a 1992-93 tour of South Africa, said that Wadekar “was more than a coach to the entire team — a father figure and a shrewd tactician.”
“Thank you Sir for the confidence shown in my ability,” Kumble added.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed Wadekar’s efforts for leading Indian “to some of the most memorable victories in our cricketing history.”
India coach Ravi Shastri paid tribute with a Twitter photo of Wadekar during his heyday as a cricketer.
“Sad moment for Indian cricket to lose one of its most successful captains. Shrewd to the core. Condolences to the entire family #TeamIndia #RIPAjitWadekar,” Shastri tweeted.
Bishan Bedi, the spin bowler and contemporary of Wadekar, admitted that he had “differences of opinion” with the great batsman but hailed Wadekar as a “fine batsman” who served Indian cricket with “aplomb.”
Wadekar’s funeral is to be held in Mumbai on Friday.