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Book Review

Tendulkar, Rohit celebrate ‘Cricket Drona’ Vasoo Paranjape and his art of giving

Vasoo Paranjape Cricket Drona
by Karunya Keshav 4 minute read
Image: Sachin Tendulkar/Twitter

In celebrating Vasoo Paranjape, an iconic Mumbai coach who influenced the generations of Gavaskar, Tendulkar and Rohit, a new book Cricket Drona offers a reminder of how ‘coaching’ goes beyond technique.

Before Sachin Tendulkar announced his retirement to the world, the first person he called was his coach Ramakant Achrekar. The second person was Vasoo Paranjape.

The story goes that Paranjape had been the first to identify that Tendulkar was not a “lagne wala player”, that is not one who gets beaten, but the “lagaane wala” kind, the one who dishes it out. And this assessment from a revered coach was the final vote of confidence the selectors needed to send the fresh-faced 16-year-old off with the Indian team to play Pakistan in 1989.

But you won’t find this anecdote in a Wikipedia entry for Paranjape. Because he has none. Nor does he have a bio on his Cricinfo profile.

The quick-witted, chain-smoking, Bradman-worshipping ex-Ranji player, coach and club cricket legend, with his signature floppy hat and cravat, generous with time, advice and stories, is a fixture of Mumbai cricket and its lore. In cricket circles, he’s venerated as the man who first called Sunil Gavaskar Sunny; who talked up a young Tendulkar to give him the confidence to prove himself; who urged a teenage Rahul Dravid, then a wicketkeeper, to enjoy his batting more; and who plugged Sourav Ganguly’s fast bowling pipe dreams.

Outside of these circles, he remains relatively anonymous among a digital generation of cricket fans, who maybe just vaguely know his as a name taken in gratitude by a retiring cricketer. Perhaps this is because through the decades, Paranjape has been assiduous about not chasing any limelight his charges find themselves under.

As Tendulkar puts it: “He never once claimed any credit for any of his students, and that’s what I respect about him – his ability to give as a coach without expecting anything in return.”

A book of essays on Paranjape is a notable effort in sharing, at long last, some of this credit with him. Written and compiled by Jatin Paranjape, Vasoo’s son who represented India in four ODIs, and journalist Anand Vasu, Cricket Drona has Indian cricket’s brightest, across generations, celebrating Vasoo through warm anecdotes about the personal and professional.

There’s Sandeep Patil, hailing a “treasure of Bombay” who helped him get married and also face Dennis Lillee. Tendulkar is grateful for the “coach who knew when not to coach” and an emotional Ramesh Powar for the man who helped a lost youngster find his way. “Vasoo taught me how to love cricket without getting obsessed with it,” remembers Yuvraj Singh of his complicated relationship with the sport early on, while Anil Kumble, who shares an earnest letter he wrote to his senior, highlights the importance of conversations and a lifetime of learning. Years later, Rohit Sharma hung on to his every word. There’s honesty and vulnerability throughout, without getting repetitive.

Sanjay Manjrekar expands the personal to a wider examination of a coach as a philosopher. “Vasoo had a light touch, and it was usually the finishing touch,” he writes. “He was not a long-term coach but rather someone who came into your life at exactly the right time, pointed you in the correct direction and then withdrew … His impact was subtle, like a batsman playing a late cut or a leg glance.”

Rahul Dravid, a new-age ‘Drona’ guiding today’s cricketers in both life and sport, pens an excellent contemplation on the essence of coaching, empathy and the “duty of care”. Starting with the question ‘How do we keep people in the game?’ he emphasises the importance of inspirational grassroots coaches. These essays are interspersed with Paranjape’s own succinct recollections of what he saw in these players – he puts Tendulkar’s greatness down to the batsman’s “power to forget” – reminding us just why coaches like him are so integral to a system of cricket that wants to find success in terms of both results and fostering a sense of belonging. ​

“The custodians of this great game have a lot to think about and their role has never been more important than now,” Paranjape senior says at one point. As with so many other calls in his career, he’s probably spot on about this one too.

Cricket Drona by Jatin Paranjape and Anand Vasu; published by Penguin Random House India in September 2020

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