Ask anyone who knew Madhav Mantri about the late India cricketer and Mumbai legend, and the word that comes up the most is disciplinarian. Mantri, who died of a heart attack this morning at the age of 92, was a stickler for discipline and punctuality. It didn’t matter who you were or what excuses you had, showing up on time was non-negotiable.
“He was like an army major,” Nadim Memon, a Mumbai Cricket Association executive committee member, told Firstpost. "He would not allow anybody to come late. If he says 9 am reporting and you came at 9:05 am, you were out of the team.”
Mantri captained both Mumbai and the Dadar Union Cricket Club and treated cricketers just the same. Memon says on one occasion a big player for Mumbai – he didn’t want to name the player – showed up late for a Ranji Trophy game. Mantri made the player sit out the match, saying nobody was bigger than the sport.
Milind Rege, the former Mumbai captain, said Mantri was the “first and last disciplinarian. Cricket in Mumbai was all about discipline in those days. Mantri was in charge and he never allowed that to slip.”
Perhaps the most famous of all Mantri stories is the one about his cricket caps and his nephew Sunil Gavaskar, who was then still a young boy. Mantri recounted the incident to DNA on his 90th birthday back in 2011
“I was getting ready for a Kanga League match and my cupboard was open. Sunil asked me if I could part with a cap. My almirah was adorned with my India, Mumbai, Maharashtra, Bombay University, ACC, Dadar Union and several other caps. I told him I had earned each one of them and that he had no right to take them away.”
According to Rege, it was that conversation that lit the “fire in the belly of Gavaskar”.
Rege’s last memory of Mantri is of him watching the Ranji quarter-final between Mumbai and Maharashtra. “Mr. Mantri came all four days. He came in a suit, shoes absolutely polished. He sat in one seat for all four days and watched every single ball.
“Some of us would gossip, go in the back, have a coke. But Mr. Mantri never did anything but watch the match. He didn’t take his eyes off the cricket stadium.”
Given his devotion and commitment to cricket, it is no surprise Mantri was also an excellent captain and administrator, with a sharp eye for talent.
Sridhar Mandale, who played first-class cricket for Mumbai from 1979 and 1986, recalls Vijay Manjrekar telling him about Mantri. “I have not seen such a great captain,” Mandale recalls Manjrekar saying. “And they were rivals. Shivaji Park and Dadar Union. It was like India and Pakistan,” Mandale said.
For former India captain Ajit Wadekar, Mantri will always be the man who got him into the Indian team. Mantri was a national selector from 1964 to 1968 and was convinced Wadekar had the ability to play for his country when the team for the 1966 tour of West Indies was being discussed. “Everyone wanted Chandu Borde but Mantri stood firm and said nothing doing, it has to be Ajit,” Wadekar said. “He convinced [Mansoor Ali Khan] Pataudi and then Pataudi said okay, we will have Ajit only.”
Mantri brought the same dedication to running the game as he did to playing it. “He would not leave the office until all his work was complete,” Memon said. “We have to salute him for doing an excellent job. He was a good cricketer but a better administrator who had very good administrative knowledge.”
While Mantri’s reputation as a hard taskmaster is unquestioned, he was willing to lend a helping hand to those who needed it. Mandale recalls a time when he was struggling to get his second son admitted to Don Bosco school in Mumbai. “I just went to [Mantri] and he said, ‘No problem, Sridhar. You do this one thing give me a letter and we will see later on’. And my son got admission.”
From player to administrator, from captain to selector and team manager, Mantri cast a long shadow on the sport in India and particularly in Mumbai.
As former India captain Dilip Vengsarkar put it: “His contribution was huge in cricket.”
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Updated Date: May 23, 2014 13:42:38 IST