Polly Umrigar: Child at Heart


November 10, 2006

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Madhav Mantri sat at his Hindu Colony dwelling, protective collar around his neck and all last evening, hurting at the passing away of Polly Umrigar.

The former India skipper looked up to Mantri, five years his senior, as a guru.

The 85-year-old former wicketkeeper-batsman couldn’t summon the courage to see Umrigar in a bad state.

“I want to remember him as the Polly he was — big, strong, healthy and a child at heart,” Mantri told MiD DAY yesterday.

Mantri saw Umrigar in the prime of his youth as a college cricketer, a rampaging first-class cricketer for Mumbai and the cavalier one for India. “He was brought up on the matting wickets of Solapur and that’s why he had such good technique. And his straight drives? My word? awesome,” he said.

Safe driver

Polly and George (Mantri’s nickname) formed a friendly pair right from their playing days for Mumbai. More recently, when Umrigar was healthy enough, he would drive Mantri down to the Bandra Kurla Complex ground to apprise him of Mumbai cricket’s new venue.

Doubtless, they spoke cricket during the drives. “He liked the current generation of cricketers and admired Sachin Tendulkar for his cricketing prowess. But he always spoke about the top-class protective gear they have now. He said to me once that if he played in this era of protection, he would have scored double the amount of runs. Umrigar scored 3,631 in 59 Tests from 1948 to 1962.

Not scared

Whispers of him not being at his best when it came to facing the quicker bowlers were shot down by Mantri.

“It was not so. In the Old Trafford Test of 1952, England skipper Len Hutton asked young Fred Trueman to bowl on a spot. So when Trueman hit the spot, the ball reared up. This prompted Polly to formulate a strategy of playing Trueman away from his body, which was misconstrued as backing away. Polly did not get the desired results (he scored only 43 runs in four Tests).”

Avid follower

On India’s next tour against the West Indies, he had his detractors and critics running for cover with 560 runs including two centuries in five Tests. Mantri can never forget the little child in Umrigar.

“A child is inquisitive and that’s what Polly was. He always wanted to know more about cricket. Not many of the current generation would know this but Umrigar hosted a popular television serial on coaching and reported on matches for a newspaper. He knew the game well but that did not stop him from reading carefully the reports by leading writers and exchanging notes with them,” Mantri said.

Glad we honoured Polly

When Vinoo Mankad passed away in 1978, the mandarins of the Mumbai Cricket Association got together for a meeting. They observed a minute’s silence and got talking about ways to improve the then four-year-old stadium.

“I told president S K Wankhede that I had something to say and then suggested that the main stadium gate be named after Mankad. And the other one where Test cricketers enter be named after Polly Umrigar. Polly was in the same room and was shocked at my suggestion,” said Mantri.

“At the same time, he felt very honoured. My thinking was, why wait for someone to pass away to honour him? Why not do it when he is alive. I am glad Mr Wankhede agreed to my request and Polly got the honour he so richly deserved.”

Original article here