Glimpses of Sharad Pawar as a cricket administrator

Pawar, who turns 81 on December 12, is passionate about both politics and cricket

Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president Sharad Pawar (File photo)
Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president Sharad Pawar (File photo)

Sujata Anandan

In the year 2000 Sharad Pawar was out of a job. He had lost that rare election of his life to the BCCI presidentship (by one vote)-- and he did not like it. He was now seeking an election to the Mumbai Cricket Association and was working to get elected unopposed as president.

The Shiv Sena had just lost the state election and the outgoing MCA president Manohar Joshi, a former chief minister, had propped up former India captain Ajit Wadekar against Pawar. Wadekar, who worked for the State Bank of India, was refusing to withdraw. He was liberal with abuses for Pawar and was far from flattering. Wadekar was also assured that the Shiv Sena's hold over various cricket clubs in Mumbai would help him win. He underestimated Sharad Pawar, who went on to win the election.

A month later, I sought an interview with Pawar in the wake of the Gujarat earthquake. Giving a time post-lunch, he asked me to arrive a little early. He was expecting a guest over lunch but was not sure he would turn up. If the guest didn’t, Pawar explained, he would see me earlier.

Pawar's guest did turn up and I waited in his lobby for my turn. Later, as I opened the door between the lobby and the drawing room, I was surprised to find Ajit Wadekar taking Pawar’s leave. Wadekar was equally shocked because barely a month ago when I met him, he had abused Pawar. Why was he now having lunch with Pawar? “What are you doing here!" he exclaimed as both Pawar and his secretary listened in. Later, I asked Pawar how he had managed to bring a sworn enemy to his table. His answer was a revelation.

Normally an unforgiving man, who everybody is afraid to cross, his love of cricket was apparent when he said there were too many faction fights in the MCA that was destroying the game. So, he had decided to bring all factions together on one table to sort out their differences.

The Shiv Sena had tried to torpedo his election to the MCA by throwing the rule book at him. The MCA Constitution forbade outsiders from contesting. Pawar, who had always been a voter in Baramati, promptly had his name deleted from the electoral roll in his village and became a voter in Mumbai to avoid further controversy.

People have often wondered why Pawar is so enamoured of cricket. Critics say it is the money that attracts politicians to cricket administration. But with Pawar it is more to do with family. His father-in-law Sadashiv Shinde was a Ranji Trophy player and much before Pawar's marriage to Pratibha Shinde, had left his wife and four daughters in penury. His friends had to organise a benefit match to rescue the family from their dire straits.

That is why Pawar is said to have lent his full support to the Indian Premier League and ensured that no other cricketer’s family ever went hungry because there was no money in the game.

Happy birthday, Mr Pawar.

(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday.)

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Published: 11 Dec 2021, 6:00 PM