If Sachin Tendulkar is the living embodiment of Indian cricket, the soul is that of Ramakant Achrekar. On the second day of 2019, Achrekar left for heavenly abode. He was 87.
Achrekar will be remembered as probably the greatest coach in the annals of cricket for not only grooming Tendulkar to become the most prolific scorer but also for moulding the owner of hundred hundreds as an epitome of humility.
If not for him, cricket, at least in India, would have meant a different game, and probably would have not established itself as the people's game that we know today. And through Tendulkar's many knocks, India experienced the magnanimity of an unrivalled coach who guided many batsmen play some of the most sublime strokes the game has ever seen.
Born Ramakant Vithal Achrekar in Bombay in 1932, the famed coach failed as a cricketer himself, playing only one first-class game for State Bank of India against a Hyderabad Cricket Association XI in 1960.
But that failure proved to be a boon for cricket. His academy, Kamath Memorial Cricket Club at Shivaji Park in Mumbai, became the nursery of Indian cricket. That's where the audacious talent of Tendulkar, who went onto to become the Master Blaster, was unearthed.
Then an 11-year old, Tendulkar switched schools - from Bandra's New English School to Sharadashram Vidya Mandir - to learn cricket under Achrekar. Then, Tendulkar was an aspiring pacer, but Achrekar turned him into a batsman. And the rest is history, as they say.
They ended up becoming the most famous student-teacher combination known in the country, which is recorded in the auspicious occasion of Guru Purnima, every year, with Tendulkar bowing his head to his master.
(In this May 24, 2017 file photo, cricket coach Ramakant Achrekar is seen with cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar during the premiere of his biopic Sachin: A Billion Dreams in Mumbai. - PTI)
In one of his famous interviews, Tendulkar talked about the role Achrekar had played in his life the most glowing.
"My actual cricket started when I was 11. My brother spotted the spark in me and then he took me to [Ramakant] Achrekar sir. Those three to four years under him were really important for my development... He would hide behind trees to see our games, and then point out the errors later on. We would have fun but it was guarded," Tendulkar once said of his mentor.
Tendulkar, who retired in 2013 with the most man of the match awards in ODIs, continues to pay respect to Achrekar every year on the auspicious occasion of Guru Purnima and Teachers' Day.
The legend has it that Tendulkar has 13 one Rupee coins, which he considers as his most prized possessions.
The story goes like this - Tendulkar after hours and hours of practice would become exhausted, but Achrekar would always find another means to continue the lesson, including placing one rupee coin on the top of a stump. The bowler who managed to bowl Tendulkar would get the coin, and if no one, Tendulkar would keep it.
It tells the story of respect Tendulkar has for Achrekar.
In one of the tributes, Tendulkar said that the "lessons you (Achrekar) taught me have always served me well."
Tendulkar, of course, is the most famous of his students. But Achrekar had groomed many cricketers who went onto represent India, like Lalchand Rajput, Chandrakant Pandit, Vinod Kambli, Praveen Amre, Sanjay Bangar, Ajit Agarkar, Ramesh Powar, etc.
(In this April 7, 2010 file photo, cricket coach Ramakant Achrekar receives Padma Shri award from the then President Pratibha Patil during a function in New Delhi. - PTI)
In 1990, he was conferred with the Dronacharya award for his services to cricket coaching. Two decades later, he was awarded the Padma Shri, one of the highest civilian honours in India.