Rahul Dravid is loved by the fans of the game world not only on account of being one of the greatest batsmen produced by India but also as a true gentleman in every sense of the word. He took on his shoulders the responsibility of coaching the national junior side after his playing days and mentored many a young player in his formative years. He continues to be regarded as a fountainhead of dignity in his current role as coach of the senior side, always focused on the action in the middle and never losing his calm demeanour.
One among the many skills that Dravid is blessed with is the ability to articulate his thoughts clearly and cogently. This was demonstrated by him in good measure when he delivered the Don Bradman oration at Sydney in 2011. Hence it was not surprising that everyone following Indian cricket sat up and took notice when he spoke passionately about a hitherto unknown cricketer in his speech during the “ Design for change” conference in 2014. The subject of his speech, an aging leg-spinner named Pravin Tambe, gained instant fame on account of being mentioned in Dravid’s speech, which has been viewed by millions through social media channels.
In fact Tambe’s selection to IPL side Rajasthan Royals (RR) the previous season had raised many eyebrows. Very few outside Mumbai had heard about him, he had not played first-class cricket and to top it all, he was 41 years old! Dravid confessed that the CEO of the franchisee was livid with him for selecting an “oldie”, which went against their established practice of nurturing young blood. Tambe was mocked as an “uncle” by some of the younger members in the squad but he took it all in his stride. But he impressed everyone with his work ethic, never-say-die attitude and positive approach with which he played the game. He has a very modest start to his IPL career with just one wicket to show in three matches in his first season, after bowling 11 overs and conceding 88 runs. But he came good during the Champions League T20 by winning the Golden Wicket award for recording the highest dismissals.
Tambe struck peak form during the 2014 IPL season claiming 15 wickets in 13 matches, which included a hat-trick against Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR). Incidentally this was a two-ball hat-trick as he dismissed three batsmen off two valid deliveries. His first victim was Manish Pandey who misread a googly and was stumped by a mile. As this delivery was adjudged as a wide, this was not recorded as a valid one, although the batsman was dismissed. He removed Yusuf Pathan and Ryan ten Doeschate off the next two balls to complete a hat-trick, which ensured that RR squeezed past KKR by a narrow margin of 10 runs. Tambe was named man of the match for his bowling performance. Dravid has gone on record that Tambe broke down and wept after winning the award.
The success he achieved with the ball made people forget his age and Tambe was bought by Gujarat Lions in 2016 and by Sunrisers Hyderabad the following year. He announced his retirement from IPL in 2018 to take part in the Abu Dhabi T10 league, where he also shone by becoming the first bowler to pick up five wickets in a game. Although he came out of his retirement prior to the start of the 2020 season and KKR bought him, he was disqualified for playing in a T10 league. However, he made up for this disappointment by becoming the first Indian to be contracted to play in the Caribbean Premier League (CPL). In between he also realized his dream of turning out for Mumbai and played both Ranji Trophy and Vijay Hazare Trophy games for his home side.
The story of Tambe is unique in many ways. As could be guessed, he remains the oldest ever debutant in IPL, making his bow at the age of 41 years and seven months. But what is more remarkable is that he had never played first-class cricket before playing IPL. He started out as a medium-pacer and achieved moderate success as a club cricketer in the Mumbai maidans. He switched over to leg spin much later but could not make it to the Mumbai squad as he was overshadowed by the presence of other top drawer spinners such as Sairaj Bahutale, Nilesh Kulkarni and Romesh Powar in the early part of his career. Later, selectors started ignoring his claim on the ground that he was too old. This also highlights the fallacy of the existing system of selection of most cricket associations in the country where emphasis is placed on youth to such an extent that there is no place for late bloomers. It is to Tambe’s credit that he did not lose heart and kept toiling away, determined to play Ranji Trophy at least once until he hung up his boots.
Tambe had to face severe challenges and undergo many privations to achieve his single-minded objective of playing first-class cricket. He was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth nor did he have access to good coaching during his formative years. As the sole breadwinner of his family, he was forced to do night jobs to earn his livelihood so that he could keep playing cricket during daytime and improve his bowling. Despite his chances of getting selected getting bleaker by the year, Tambe did not give up. Instead, he continued to train hard and maintained peak physical fitness. His passion for the game and grim determination impressed Abey Kuruvilla, former Indian fast bowler and Director of Sports at the DY Patil Cricket Academy, and he was given a regular job in this establishment, where he could also play the game. He also used to work as liaison officer for IPL sides when matches were played at the DY Patil Stadium.
The biopic Kaun Pravin Tambe? which was released in April, tells us the story of this lion-hearted cricketer. Tambe’s success was earlier chronicled in the book “When God bowls a googly”, which was penned by the late Aswath Aiyappa, a talented cricketer, who could not make it to the top grade and unfortunately met with a tragic end. Both the book and the movie highlight the struggles that players like Tambe have to undergo and the extreme sacrifices they are required to make in order to achieve success in sports. The need to learn to take setbacks in one’s stride and show the necessary resilience to bounce back after each reversal are traits that no sportsperson can do without. The harsh realities of life that aspiring cricketers face are portrayed in detail, without any attempts at window dressing. Furthermore, it also underlines the basic fact that the road to the top is filled with thorns and obstacles and only persons blessed with unrelenting perseverance and immense fortitude can successfully traverse it.
Kaun Pravin Tambe? is a must-watch movie not only for all budding sportspersons but also for their families. It is also a tribute to an unsung, unheralded and largely unknown yet brave, sincere and conscientious cricketer.
(The author is a former international cricket umpire and a senior bureaucrat)