For Madhav Apte, cricket was a way of life
His nascent Test career was snipped by the national selectors in controversial circumstances, but former India opener Madhav Apte, who died on Monday aged 86, remained in lifelong love with the game.
Apte’s passion for the game stood out as he played till he was past 70. In Mumbai’s maidans, stories abound of the effort he took to travel in from wherever his business had taken him, to be in time for the local Sunday games. “He had a sugar factory in Malaysia and he would take a flight from Kuala Lumpur on Saturday night to play for his club,” says Chandu Patankar, Mumbai’s oldest living Test cricketer at 88 years, who was at the Shivaji Park crematorium to bid farewell to his close friend and former teammate.
Apte was one of the most loved cricket personalities from the city, and it was seen during his final journey. Sunil Gavaskar, who was in Bengaluru for Sunday’s India-South Africa T20 game, reached to pay his last respects. Former India captain Dilip Vengsarkar, national selector Jatin Paranjpe and his father Vasu Paranjpe, despite his failing health, were all in attendance along with Mumbai Cricket Association officials.
Apte played only seven Tests, all in 1952-53. He scored 542 runs at an average of 49.27. It included an unbeaten 163 against West Indies at Port-of-Spain. After a run of 64, 52, 64, 9, 0, 163 not out, 30, 30, 15 and 33 in the Caribbean—460 runs at 50-plus average—the diminutive opener was shockingly dropped, never to play another Test.
READ: Average of 49.27, but only 7 Tests played - The mystery of Madhav Apte
In his autobiography ‘As Luck Would Have It’, Apte has spoken of how after his run in the West Indies, his father was approached by then chief selector, Lala Amarnath, for a cloth distributorship for one of their flagship mills in New Delhi. His father declined. Apte was never picked to play for India after that.
Patankar says Apte never let it affect him. “He played only a few matches, but those days the politics was different.” His friends say it was also because there were many other things going his way in life. Apte was born with the proverbial silver spoon. He owned many successful businesses and was chairman of his family company, Apte Group, which owned textile mills and sugar factories.
He played first-class cricket for Mumbai for long (1951-52 to 1967-68) but his favourite was the Kanga League, in which he played for his own club, Jolly Cricketers. From 1948, he played for more than 50 years in the monsoon league, where conditions are hostile for batsmen.
“From Malaysia he would call me up on Saturdays to check about the weather, if play would be possible. He would fly down in the morning, but there were occasions when it had rained in the night or in the morning and the matches would be washed out. He would simply take a flight back to Kuala Lumpur on Monday,” recalls former India selector Anil Deshpande, who captained Jolly Cricketers for a long time.
Apte played with the late icon DB Deodhar as a teenager and was still going strong when Sachin Tendulkar arrived. “Have fond memories of Madhav Apte Sir. I got to play against him at Shivaji Park when I was 14. Still remember the time when he & Dungarpur Sir let me play for the CCI as a 15-year-old. He always supported me & was a well wisher,” Tendulkar tweeted.
READ: The Madhav Apte role in shaping Sachin Tendulkar’s career
Former India cricketer, Yajurvindra Singh, who played for Jolly Cricketers, remembers a game against Dadar Union, one of Mumbai’s most successful clubs. “The most memorable match I played with him was against Dadar Union in 1996. He must have been in his 60s. By the time we both went out to bat, we had lost four-five wickets. We had a good partnership and I can never forget it because here was a 60-year-old against Dadar Union getting a half-century in the Kanga League. He was still batting and remained not out when I got out on 80-odd due to tiredness.”
Yajurvindra recalls the parties thrown by Apte for cricketers. “Those days, there used to be a rest day during Tests. In Mumbai, both teams would always be at Apte’s residence on rest day… It was great fun as he used to always invite old cricketers as well. Imagine, during a Test, lot of them would be telling you what your mistakes were and how you should be playing. I remember I was bowled by Tony Grieg (1977 Test vs England at Wankhede Stadium) and Sharad Diwadkar came to me and said; ‘next time try and play that off-spinner off the front foot or sweep him’. In the second innings, I went there and did that.”
Gavaskar too has fond memories of the parties. “The cricketing get-togethers at his house made for memorable evenings with enlightening cricket talk with the who’s who of cricket. I will miss those evenings, listening to him along with some of the greatest names in Indian cricket.
“Extremely sad at the passing away of Shri Madhavrao Apte. He was a true aficionado of our beloved game and just couldn’t have enough of it.”