He is the quiet, grand old man of the BCCI, witness to the good, the bad and the politics of Indian cricket for almost half a century. During his long, 47-year-old association with the Board, he has been a ringside witness to 18 presidents, 15 secretaries, 14 joint secretaries, 12 treasurers and all six executive secretaries—besides numerous players and selectors.
But the mild-mannered, 65-year-old Sitaram Tambe, the oldest Board employee, continues to chug along at the Board’s headquarters inside Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium. His job profile involves typical office work at the BCCI HQ. But his biggest—and most exciting—responsibility requires him to carry domestic tournament trophies to various parts of the country, wherever the finals are played. After the trophies are presented to the winning and losing captains in post-final ceremonies, Tambe brings them back to the BCCI head office.
Tambe has been carrying trophies back and forth for 33 years—initially he travelled in second-class sleeper berths; now he’s booked in a second-class AC coach. Quite remarkably, all his 200-plus journeys till now have been by train. His first journey was in 1984, for the Deodhar Trophy, when he took the cup from Mumbai to Vijayawada. Since then, Tambe has been packing and unpacking various trophies for their annual ritual several times during the cricket season. It may sound mundane, but he guards them zealously. He never reveals to his fellow passengers what his luggage contains. “Only when a policeman insists on opening the bag as part of his security exercise, I show him the letter from the BCCI, saying the trophy is travelling for official purpose,” he says. “The only time a policeman insisted on unpacking a trophy was when I was about to board the train in Mumbai along with the Ranji Trophy for the final to be played in Delhi in 2001-02. The railway policeman said it was too heavy to be carried inside the compartment. I called up someone in the Railways and got the issue resolved.”
Incredibly, in over 200 journeys Tambe has undertaken, he has not once lost, misplaced or damaged the trophies. Only on a couple of occasions was the lid of the Ranji Trophy damaged. The miniature ‘Father Time’ emblem, fixed atop the lid of the trophy, was slightly damage when the packing was being removed before the final in Chennai in 2013, and again at the final in Indore in January 2017. “The Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association CEO and I went out in the city at the night and got it fixed before the presentation,” says Tambe.
Initially, it was Tambe’s job to make the rounds to the telegraph office for despatching telegrams to players, informing them officially of their selection in Indian teams. For Mumbai players, he would often carry the official selection letter to their residences, like when he went to Sachin Tendulkar’s house in 1989. Players are now informed by email or courier, but Tambe is still sole, in-transit custodian of the trophies. Late last month, Tambe carried the Vijay Hazare Trophy and the Deodhar Trophy to Delhi and Visakhapatnam—and took them back to Mumbai—on his continuous ‘discovery of India’ by train.