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Polly kaka lasted 10 years in a place where petty politicking has been perfected into an art form

Hemant Kenkre
A lot has been written about Polly Umrigar's resignation as executive secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India. Polly kaka, as the great man is known in cricket circles, served the BCCI in the executive position for a decade, ever since his retirement from the Associated Cement Company. After he bade goodbye to first class cricket, Polly kaka wore many a cap: that of a manager, selector administrator and curator.

One remembers his first 'test' as curator when he turned a spot of land in Churchgate, favoured by ragpickers, into a Test venue. India and the West Indies had won two Tests each and were all set to play the decider on a fresh new wicket tended by Umrigar. The West Indies team management took one look at the wicket and started whining. The visitors had lost two consecutive Tests at Calcutta and Madras after being two up in the series. Both Indian victories were carved out by that magnificent Indian spin trio, Chandrashekhar, Bedi and Prasanna, the likes of whom we may never see again.

West Indies were expecting a turner, which would effectively seal their fate, and the sight of a brown wicket was not particularly encouraging. Clive Lloyd's men went into the Test with a negative frame of mind and one clearly remembers the team management stating that the wicket would not last for more than a couple of days, all of which was eagerly lapped up by the media.

Today, that particular Test is remembered for the quality of all-round cricket that was displayed by titans of the game who participated therein. Skipper Lloyd's blistering 242 where he peppered the stadium with sixers, some of which hit the second tier of the new stadium. Gundappa Viswanath's artistry while dispatching Roberts, Holder and Julien with a flick of the wrist. Sunil Gavaskar's pinpoint accurate straight drive in his 80-odd run essay which is considered as one of his best by many. The arrogance of the uncrowned Viv Richards while he bludgeoned the Indian spinners and showed the world of cricket a trailer of what was to follow. The resurrection of Brijesh Patel who brought life back into the dying moments of the lost game.

With a resounding victory in that Test, which incidentally lasted for six days much to their embarrassment, the West Indies won the Test series and Polly kaka proved that he had the skills of a curator, which is stupendous considering that quite a few Test captains cannot read a wicket forget preparing one.

As far as one is concerned, Polly kaka was the ultimate all-rounder in the true sense of the word with a remarkable career on and off the field. One could not alas, watch him don the country's colours but one watched him wearing all those caps and one could only marvel at the zeal and enthusiasm he displayed in all the roles that he played.

One was not at all shocked when one heard the news that Polly kaka had resigned. One only wondered why it look him so long to take this bitter step. One believes that when he was offered this post, Polly kaka's brief was that he would assist members of the various sub-committees with strategic inputs. No committee member could ask for a better guide.

But then we are talking about the BCCI committee members most of whom have made staying in the institution a career. One did hear the occasional buzz about Polly kaka being put-in- place-as-a-paid-secretary-should. No, these career BCCI men couldn't be that bad one thought.

The problem was the Polly Umrigar was a Test cricketer among men to who associate Test cricket with VIP enclosures and marquees. They expected the Kapil Dev of the 1950s and 1960s to do the job of a file pusher who would stand to attention entertaining each and every whim of the 'elected' ones. Reports in the media mention that Polly kaka was miffed that he was not considered as a beneficiary for the C K Nayudu award. He may have been and rightly so.

One is not making any inference here but we live in a nation which firmly believes in the hypocrisy of 'humble' persons who claim they did not deserve an award while allowing all and sundry to lobby for them. If Polly kaka thought he deserved the award, he has the right to feel dejected if the same is denied. Then, it does not matter if he happens to be the paid secretary of the BCCI.

The high-handed attitude shown towards him by some BCCI members and the C K Nayudu award are just straws that broke the back of this genial giant. Polly kaka lasted 10 years in a place where petty politicking has been perfected into an art form. His innings on this sticky wicket was a tribute to his temperament and one can well understand how he scored over 3,600 runs in a Test career. One got a jhalak of this temperament on the eve of the opening ceremony of the Wills World Cup 1996.

One found Polly kaka stranded outside the Taj Bengal, Calcutta, the night before the mother of all disasters. The old gladiator seemed lost in the crowd which was waiting to catch a glimpse of modern knights. Polly kaka was upset. There was no one to receive him at the airport.

He had found his way to the Taj Bengal since he was given to understand that all the officials were there. He had no booking in Taj Bengal. In fact, he had no booking anywhere in Calcutta. He eventually shared a room at the Park with an umpire.

All this happened to a former India captain who also happened to be the 'paid secretary' of the BCCI.

Hemant Kenkre, a cricketer of some distinction, will contribute an occasional column to these pages.