It’s a rarest of rare case in cricket. Three main architects of a team’s historic successive triumphs decide to get married at the same time – well, almost. And all three weddings get delayed because a factor that is outside their control. Aditya Sarwate, Akshay Wadkar, and Rajneesh Gurbani played the lead roles in Vidarbha’s first-ever Ranji Trophy title win in 2018, and then did an encore the next season. And although Vidarbha failed to complete a hat-trick of titles in 2020, the three cricketers, by a strange coincidence, decided to get married within 22 days of each other – between April 27 and May 18.
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But, just like they combine to decimate all opponents they were forced to postpone their ‘big social event’ together, ironically, due to the ‘social distancing’ norm of the COVID-19-induced national lockdown. And another great coincidence is that all three work in the same office – the Accountant General’s office in Nagpur.
Spin bowling-all-rounder Aditya, 30, was to get married to Arunita, a bachelor hospital management degree holder, on April 27; quick-scoring batsman-cum-wicket-keeper Akshay, 25, was to tie the nuptial knot with his former college classmate Shrutika, a Bachelor of Business Administration, on May 2; and, 27-year-old speedster Rajneesh was to get hitched by Shivani on May 18. Wadkar and Shrutika were, in fact, engaged on August 10 last year. So, the gap between their engagement and the wedding could eventually be almost a year. Nonetheless, all six persons will now have to wait at least till May 3, the day the second national lockdown ends, to know the fate of their marriages!
What are their feelings about their weddings getting postponed? “We can wait till June 30 because we have no option but to see the end of the lockdown. Also, Shrutika wants the wedding to take place in a proper gathering and all the usual fanfare. And, she also wants to get decked up for the occasion,” Wadkar, the fastest runner between wickets in the Vidarbha team, tells Outlook.
Aditya, too, is biding his time, with few options available. “My marriage was to take place on April 27, but it has been postponed because of the lockdown. After all, pandit ji, too, should be available,” he quips. “The new date hasn’t been finalised as the lockdown period has been extended. Since Arunita is from Sagar in Madhya Pradesh, we [baraat] would have to go there and that is not possible now. We also mulled the wedding with only four-five people from the two families being present, but that too has been ruled out.” His large home in Nagpur recently got a fresh coat of paint for the big occasion and is ready to open its gates to welcome guests.
Rajneesh, who unlike his fearsome deliveries that often find batsmen on the wrong foot, seems shy of discussing his wedding, which was to happen originally on May 18. “The [changed] date has not been decided. Let us see if I get married this year or the next,” says the man who took a hat-trick and bagged the Man-of-the-Match award in the 2017-18 Ranji Trophy final.
As a wicket-keeper, who was drafted straight into the Vidarbha Ranji Trophy squad from the middle of a local match, he effected 23 dismissals in first-class matches in 2017-18 and 30 in 2018-19 – mostly in Ranji Trophy – as his team lifted the trophy. Although he again effected 30 dismissals – besides scoring 499 runs – in 2019-20 season, Vidarbha as a team struggled and failed to complete the hat-trick of titles.
Soon after being drafted into Vidarbha’s Ranji team in 2017-18, Akshay realised that he was unable to express himself fully with the bat. So, he went into coach Chadrakant Pandit’s room and had a heart to heart talk. “I told him that I wanted to play my natural game. He asked me if I was confident. I said ‘yes’ and from that day I played my natural game,” Akshay tells Outlook. He finished the 2017-18 first-class season with 395 runs and 23 dismissals behind the stumps, and of these, 293 runs (with one century and two half-centuries) and 14 dismissals came in the Ranji Trophy that helped Vidarbha clinched their first ever title. In the Ranji final, he scored a painstaking seven-hour 133 that helped Vidarbha take a massive first-innings lead and crushed Delhi by nine wickets, triggering wild celebrations.
Having watched Akshay’s gutsy batting – he uses his feet fearlessly against both spinners and pacers -- Pandit, a former India wicket-keeper, also told him that he would send him to bat in “tough conditions”. That boosted Akshay’s confidence further, and there was no looking back. The other turning point Akshay points out was the “talk” with seasoned pro Wasim Jaffer during a lunch interval in that final against Delhi. “These two incidents cleared my mind,” says Akshay. About his brisk running between the wickets, Akshay says he’s been like that since childhood. “That’s why I have been run out several times. I play a lot of grounded shots [and take off for runs],” he points out.
In the 2018-19 season, Akshay was at a peak as he scored 899 runs (three hundreds and three half-centuries) in 14 first-class matches and effected 30 dismissals as Vidarbha won the Ranji crown the second consecutive time. And in the recently concluded 2019-20 season, he was again in fine form with the bat and behind the stumps.
These days, as lockdown is keeping everyone indoors, Akshay comes out to play a quick game of cricket with his neighbours in the compound in front of his house while adhering to the social distancing norms. And inside his home, he practices with the hanging ball. What more a cricketer can do whose marriage has been delayed and is not able to express himself fully on a cricket field too?
Speciality: Right-arm pacer
In 2014, when Rajneesh was doing his civil engineering and received a handsome placement offer while still at Ramdeobaba College of Engineering and Management in Nagpur, he was in a dilemma. To join a company that offered a package of around Rs.4 lakh per annum, or pursue cricket? That was the question he faced. His father found the solution for him. “Dad told me to continue with my passion – cricket. That was a life-turning decision,” Rajneesh tells Outlook. His paternal grandparents also backed him to the hilt, and today Rajneesh proudly informs that his grandfather is “the proudest person” at his success.
Rajneesh, who once completed the 100m dash in 11.3 seconds in an Inter-Varsity Meet and excelled in long jump, made his Ranji Trophy debut in 2016-17 and hit the purple patch the next year, when he bagged 43 wickets at a brilliant average of 17.16 in seven first-class matches, including five five-wickets innings hauls and one 10-wicket return. In the Ranji Trophy, he was one of the main architects of the title triumph, bagging the Man-of-the-Match awards in the quarter-finals (7/68 vs Kerala), semi-finals (12/162 vs Karnataka), and the final (8/151). In the final, he broke Delhi’s back with a hat-trick, and the five-day match ended inside four days.
Most the seven matches that he played – and excelled in – were played on neutral grounds, outside Nagpur, points out Rajneesh. “Playing on neutral grounds helped my bowling. The Jamtha stadium in Nagpur is a closed ground and has a traditional spin friendly pitch base that mostly helps spinners while in ‘away’ matches the pitches suit my bowling style. I was confident and the team atmosphere was also very good. All that helped me,” he says.
Rajneesh reveals an interesting incident that happened over dinner at a Nagpur restaurant two months before the 2017-18 season had started, and it became the biggest motivating factor for him and others in his group. Rajnnesh, Akshay Wadkar, Apurva Wankhede, R Sanjay, Rishabh Rathore, and Jitesh Sharma were having a meal when Rajneesh suddenly observed that “our seniors, howsoever good they were, can never say they were part of a Ranji champion Vidarbha team”.
That sentence clicked with all six at the table. “Akshay, Apurva, and Sanjay particularly supported my idea, and from that day we started pushing each other. If anyone of us would slack even one bit, the other five would push him, whether it was in the gym or the cricket field. It kind of became an ego thing for six of us, and it motivated us throughout that season,” he discloses.
It resulted in Rajneesh bagging 39 wickets in Ranji Trophy alone while Wadkar amassed 725 runs and effected 27 dismissals in 11 matches in Vidarbha’s sensational triumph. Rajneesh wasn’t as successful in the next two seasons. But his impending marriage could prove another motivating factor to rejuvenate his career, much like the one sentence he uttered at the dining table at Barbeque Nation that actually triggered the successful Ranji campaign in 2017-18.
Speciality: Left-arm spin and lower/middle order batsman
He secured good marks in class X, but he switched to commerce in XI. All in the family supported his decision. Opting for commerce would allow him to get more time to concentrate on cricket. He went on to complete post-graduate diploma in financial management, and landed a job in sports quota with Accountant General’s office. “Cricket is in my blood as my grandfather Shyam Sarwate, a Marathi radio commentator, was a cousin of former India player Chandu Sarwate. My father represented Nagpur University and Punjab National Bank. I joined Pravin Hinganikar Cricket Academy, run by the former Vidarbha captain, and started playing in the local league,” he says. He, along with Wadkar, represents Navniketan Cricket Club in local tournaments.
After making his first-class debut in 2015-16, Aditya hit the purple patch in the 2017-18 season (348 runs and 32 wickets in seven FC matches) and performed even better in the next season, when the opposition found him virtually unplayable. His left-arm spin fetched him 66 wickets at 21.39 – including seven five-wicket innings hauls and one 10-wicket match haul – and he also scored 383 runs with the help of a century and a half-century. His career-best 11/157 couldn’t have come at a more opportune time than the Ranji final, against Saurashtra. Also, he chipped in with a crucial 49 in the second innings – and received the Man-of-the-Match award for all-round display. And, in the season that ended last month, Aditya bagged 35 wickets and scored 230 runs in 10 first-class matches. And now he awaits the lockdown to end, so that he could start a new ‘innings’, away from the field.