Former India opener and Kanga veteran Madhav Apte dies at 86

The Times of India

The Times of India

Author 2019-09-24 14:55:00


MUMBAI: "Hello, this is Madhav Apte, did you call?" his soft voice would always whisper when he would return the call that he had unintentionally missed.

The former India opener turned successful entrepreneur and Mumbai stalwart passed away, aged 86, in a Mumbai hospital on Monday morning after a cardiac arrest preceded by brief illness.

Why he played only seven Tests between 1952-53 despite averaging 49.27, including a match-saving and defiant 163 against West Indies in Port of Spain, will always remain a mystery.

Why the axe came immediately after that tour to West Indies which featured an attack boasting of Sonny Ramadhin, Alf Valentine and Frank King, and after notching up scores of 64, 52, 64, 9, 0, 163*, 30, 30, 15 and 33 makes his case even more curious.

Despite the snub, Apte never made his bitterness public (he wrote about it in his autobiography As Luck Would Have It - Unplugged Uncut) and all he would say about it was "In those days, there was a bit of politics". Coming from an affluent business family, the Elphinstone College-educated Apte played 17 seasons of First Class cricket for Mumbai and Bengal and also served as president of the Cricket Club of India. He was also an avid badminton player and 15-time National badminton champion Nandu Natekar was his hitting partner for several years.

As president of the CCI, he was responsible for changing the rules of the club to allow a 15-year-old Sachin Tendulkar to play for them.

It was hardly a wonder then that Tendulkar led the tributes on twitter as soon as news travelled of Apte breathing his last. "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. May his Soul Rest In Peace."

His funeral was fittingly held at Shivaji Park crematorium, a place, located hardly a few hundred metres away from Mumbai's famous and fertile cricketing nursery and was attended by cricket legend Sunil Gavaskar, former captain and chief selector Dilip Vengsarkar, current selector Jatin Paranjpe and father Vasu and commentator Harsha Bhogle among others.

Apart from his numerous achievements, mainly for his clubs, Jolly Cricketers, SPG and CCI, for whom he turned out passionately (he played Kanga League for Jolly for more than 50 years, till the age of 71) , Apte would also be one of the few cricketers who has had the honour of playing with and against Prof DB Deodhar and Tendulkar.

Says former Vidarbha cricketer and former India selector, Anil Deshpande, who played alongside Apte for many years at Jolly Cricketers, "Such was his passion for playing the game that he would call me up from Kuala Lumpur after checking the Kanga schedule (he ran a sugar factory back there) on Saturday to check how is the weather. On being told it is fine, he would tell me to put him in the playing XI and fly down to Mumbai. If it rained, he would promptly take the next flight back and would hardly complain."

Another friend and colleague, former India stumper, Chandu Patankar, who at 88, is now the oldest surviving Mumbai cricketer and the third oldest India player after DK Gaekwad and CD Gopinath, recalled how Apte made him switch jobs from BEST to Bombay Suburban and then his textile business but never made him feel like his employee. "He was an excellent opening batsman and a very good fielder. But more than that, he was a compassionate and gentle human being and a wonderful story-teller and a great host who loved talking cricket during parties."

There are numerous stories about how he would never have dinner alone and a monthly meal with Gavaskar and Vengsarkar was almost a given.

His raconteuring and incandescent wit was experienced by people who interviewed him after his last Kanga League game in 2002. After being complimented for the glow on his face, Apte shot back, "There's a glow here too." (pointing to his bald pate) When asked why that glow, he said, "As an opener, I spent so much time taking the shine off the ball that some of it rubbed off on my head."

He also narrated a fabulous story about how the BCCI paid the players just Rs 250 for a Test during the 1952-53 tour of West Indies and it did not have money to send the players by air. "We travelled to London by air and from there, we travelled in banana boats to Barbados. Players slept between two baskets of bananas," he revealed.

Always game for a conversation, Apte probably missed THAT call from heaven too as some friends said he was fighting back. However, being a meticulous creature of habit, he must have called the Gods back and said, "Hello, Madhav Apte here, did you call?"

Unfortunately, for Mumbai cricket, the Gods said yes.

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