Ajit Wadekar, who led India to historic series wins in the West Indies and England in 1971, has died at the age of 77. He had been suffering from a prolonged illness.
Wadekar, an aggressive left-hand batsman and an excellent catcher in the slips, played 37 Tests, scoring 2113 runs at an average of 31.07. His one century, a match-winning 143 at Wellington, came during India’s 1967-68 tour of New Zealand, where they won a series away from home for the very first time.
It was a time when India, led by Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, were growing into a genuine force in world cricket. And it was Wadekar who, with Pataudi sitting out the tour of the West Indies in 1970-71, took over the captaincy, thanks to the casting vote of Vijay Merchant, the chairman of selectors.
Fuelled by the batting exploits of Dilip Sardesai and the debutant Sunil Gavaskar, India would go on to clinch a 1-0 victory over Sir Garfield Sobers’ side. When they followed that up with another 1-0 win in England, inspired by BS Chandrasekhar’s 6 for 38 at The Oval, many considered India unofficial world champions.
Another series win, against England at home in 1972-73, burnished Wadekar’s standing as captain, but the end, when it came, was swift and cruel – a 3-0 series loss on the 1974 tour of England, which included the infamous 42 all out – still India’s lowest-ever Test total – at Lord’s. Sacked as captain after the tour, Wadekar announced his retirement.
In later years, Wadekar served as India’s first ever official head coach, taking over in 1992 and overseeing a four-year period in which they were dominant on spinning tracks at home, memorably blanking England 3-0 in 1992-93. In December 2011, the BCCI conferred him with the CK Nayudu Lifetime Achievement Award.