Bhandarkar: The coach who fine-tuned Sunil Gavaskar's technique
- When Gavaskar had a couple of bad series including a series in Australia in 1980-81, he came to Pune and Bhandarkar had a close look at his batting.
- Within no time Bhandarkar found flaws in his technique and suggested ways to correct them.
- Gavaskar got runs after that including those record-breaking hundreds against West Indies.
Pune and Maharashtra stalwart, the late Kamal Bhandarkar, widely regarded as the best coach in India from 1950 until his death in 1986, was one such personality.
Bhandarkar showed way to hundreds of cricketers from Pune and beyond. Chandu Borde, Sunil Gavaskar, Chetan Chauhan, Yajurvindra Singh, Hemant Kanitkar, Milind Gunjal, Shrikant Kalyani, Shubhangi Kulkarni are just some of the names that benefited from his tutelage.
Former first-class cricketer Jairaj 'Raju' Mehta, business partner and friend of Gavaskar, tells an interesting story. "When Gavaskar had a couple of bad series including a series in Australia in 1980-81, he came to Pune and Bhandarkar Sir had a close look at his batting. The stalwarts in Mumbai were telling Gavaskar that there was nothing wrong with his batting and he was edging balls being too good (with sarcasm) a player.
"Within no time Bhandarkar Sir found flaws in his technique and suggested ways to correct them. Gavaskar got runs after that including those record-breaking hundreds against West Indies. He says multiply these runs of mine by 10 and award it to Bhandarkar sir."
Mehta said that Bhandarkar, who received his lessons from Duleepsinhji, coached at Wadia College and also had stints at other grounds including PYC and Poona Club. Until his death in 1986, aged 75, he breathed cricket.
Bhandarkar' son Sunil told TOI: "My father was a science graduate and worked in zoology department (Wadia College) as demonstrator (dissection). He played hockey, football, badminton, tennis and boxing. We were told that he had a gift for coaching. Spotting mistakes and suggesting corrective measures came naturally to him."
Yajurvindra Singh, former Maharashtra captain and India player, said, "Bhandarkar Sir was excellent in identifying faults and remembering it. From the school kids to India players, he treated everyone the same.
"Just because you were an India or Maharashtra player, you won't get to bat on priority basis in his nets. You had to wait for your turn. He also knew how to give reality check to the players if they were showing complacency or over-confidence."
Both Mehta and Yajurvindra said Chetan Chauhan was an ordinary player when he joined Wadia College. But Bhandarkar worked with him closely, spoke with authorities and ensured that the opener showed real progress.
Yajurvindra, who took a then record of seven catches for a fielder (other than a wicket-keeper) in a single Test, said, "Bhandarkar sir used to ensure we all took at least 100 catches a day or 50 of them with the wet ball. And for every dropped catch, you had to take two extra catches."
Meeting Bhandarkar sir was "life-changing moment for many of us," Yajurvindra added.
Shubhangi Kulkarni said, "Those were the days when coaches didn't ask for fees. They just contributed. He didn't ever talk to me about fees.
"He used to say that the runs you scored are my fees."
She added that he wasn't averse to the idea of giving coaching tips to players from outside his camp. Similarly, he would refer players to Hemu Adhikari since "he was a better fielding coach."
That doesn't mean Bhandarkar wasn't an all-round coach. When the concept of India camps before tours started, some of them were held under his supervision.
Former India skipper Chandu Borde remembers such a camp held before the Pakistan tour of 1954. Before the 1958-59 home series against West Indies that had Wes Hall and Roy Gilchrist in attack, Bhandarkar gave practice for batting against short-pitched stuff to Borde with wet rubber ball on tiles.
"He was technically great but also superb in finding practical solutions," said Borde.
Kulkarni fondly remembers him being compassionate and open minded. "He used to make us play with big boys. But they were monitored practice sessions. He used to take care of our safety but at the same time exposed us to higher-level cricket and ensured we are prepared well for the bigger challenge," she said. "Most importantly, you could talk to him for long time and argue over things. He never took offense to our constant questioning. He welcomed different viewpoints.
"When we used to say that technique is over-rated compared to mental strength and match awareness, I clearly remember him saying that more coaching work is required in these areas. He has been proved right with the passage of time."
Born: February 21, 1911
Died: December 10, 1986
Role: Opening batsman and wicketkeeper
Teams: Central India, Holkar and Maharashtra (1935-36 to 1949-50)
Graduated from Wadia College in 1943. Was posted at Indore from 1934 to 37 in the Army.
Part of Ranji winning teams for Maharashtra (1939-40) and Holkar (1945-46).
Was involved in 455-run partnership with Bhausaheb Nimbalkar in Ranji Trophy (1948 vs Kathiawar, Poona Club). It was then the second-highest first-class partnership.
Dedicated his post-playing days to teaching and cricket coaching from 1950s to 1980s.