Dilip Balwant Vengsarkar is among the most accomplished cricketers in the history of the sport. His contribution to Indian cricket is immense and came in multiple roles: as player, captain, selector, administrator, and not the least, fervent supporter of talent at the grassroots level.
Born in a middle class family and living in Dadar where cricket penetrates every aspect of life, Vengsarkar was weaned on the tough and uncompromising culture of Mumbai cricket. His prolific run-scoring in school and college cricket earned him early attention, with pundits predicting a bright future, including possibly representing the country.
That happened sooner than imagined. After a string of high-scores, he was selected by Bombay to play in the Irani Trophy match against Rest of India in 1975-76, pitting him against the likes of Bishen Bedi and Erapalli Prasanna, then the reigning deities of spin bowling in the world.
Vengsarkar, only 18, took to the challenge with relish, scoring 110 in a riveting display of unfettered strokeplay. The selectors were thoroughly impressed by the hugely talented teenager, and he was fast-tracked into the Indian team the following season itself.
Over the next 17 years, Vengsarkar played 116 Tests and 129 ODIs, growing from a precocious youngster into a mature, dependable, masterly batsman who could score runs in all conditions against all kinds of bowlers, and particularly in crisis situations, winning accolades from the sternest critics everywhere.
Tall and stylish, Vengsarkar, had a rich array of strokes which he played with aplomb. In the best tradition of the Bombay School of cricket, he put a heavy premium on his wicket. It had always to be hard-earned, never given away easily.
Three centuries at Lord’s have given Vengsarkar everlasting fame, but even this extraordinary achievement doesn’t quite convey the true extent of his virtuosity. He was easily India’s best `bad wicket’ player, and for a 2-3 years in the mid-1980s, consensus opinion rated him the best batsman in the world.
His captaincy stint was brief as he fell foul of the BCCI, but his understanding of the game was a bonus for captains that he played under, in domestic and international cricket.
After retirement, Vengsarkar put his mind and effort into areas that most well-known cricketers, particularly in India, would otherwise shy away from administration, team selection and nurturing talent at the junior levels. In all three aspects, Vengsarkar’s contribution has been enormous.
The Vengsarkar Cricket Academy for juniors has run successfully for over 25 years. As a selector, his rich experience as a player and ability to assess talent astutely got youngsters like Virat Kohli, who had excelled at the under-19 a place in the Indian team without delay. As part of the Mumbai Cricket Association and BCCI’s administrative set-ups, his views, founded on astute understanding of the game, have been widely respected and implemented.