• Clayton Murzello: KP Ashar and his sunshine ways

    Clayton MurzelloMumbaiJun 01, 2017, 08:04 IST

    Kiran Ashar at Shivaji Park where he played and coached
    Kiran Ashar at Shivaji Park where he played and coached

    A Don Bradman of school cricket in Mumbai bid goodbye to us all last week. A five-month stint in hospital was his marathon innings. He faced a type of bowling he had never faced before. He showed patches of brilliance, he ducked, weaved and embraced hope, but the infection caused after a brain haemorrhage, apart from a heart and kidney ailment, proved to be invincible.

    His name: Kiran Pratapsinh Ashar. His most famous performance: Five hundreds in a row in the 1964-65 Harris Shield tournament for Bharda New High School. There was more to him than just being a school batting giant — his wicketkeeping, something which fascinated him ever since his father, affectionately called 'Mama' in cricket circles, took him to a match in Pune where former India wicketkeeper PG 'Nana' Joshi was keeping wickets with red gloves.

    Hemendra Vyas, a journalist, who watched a significant amount of local cricket, remembered the great Vinoo Mankad arriving on the final day of a Bharda vs Fellowship Harris Shield game at Azad Maidan's Fort Vijay club in the early 1960s. Mankad's son Ashok was playing for Fellowship and was all set to guide his side to victory. Well before the team walked out to field, the Bharda coach Jamshed Elavia requested Mankad to advise his off-spinner Pradeep Baxi. Mankad agreed, but insisted the wicketkeeper (in this case Ashar) be present at the discussion. Not long after play resumed, Ashok, according to Vyas, was stumped brilliantly on the leg-side by Ashar off Baxi, and the game was Bharda's.

    Ashar and Kailash Gattani, who played the Ranji Trophy for Rajasthan as a schoolboy, were pillars of the Bharda team. Gattani reckoned Ashar was an outstanding wicketkeeper-batsman who should have played a lot more for Mumbai.

    Mankad coached Ashar at the LR Tairsee nets. "Vinoobhai was my best coach. I owe him everything I could achieve in cricket," Ashar would often say. A few months before he was admitted to hospital, Ashar (69) got a coffee mug made with Mankad's picture and the words 'My coach' inscribed on it. Despite the splendid cutlery he collected, tea was consumed only from the Vinoo Mankad cup. Ashar followed up his school cricket exploits by excelling on the tough Mumbai club scene and by 20, he was representing the formidable Associated Cement Company (ACC) team.

    His domestic cricket credentials ought to have been better than seven first-class games, but cricket is not always kind to its practitioners; fate can be uncharitable too.

    On his Mumbai debut — against Rest of India — in the 1968-69 Irani Cup, Ashar was hurt on the groin while 'keeping to Padmakar Shivalkar. He retired to the Brabourne Stadium dressing room and didn't have a role to play in the game.

    It was another eight years before Ashar walked out with a Mumbai team again. Ashar made a good return to first-class cricket when Sunil Gavaskar's Mumbai played S Venkataraghavan's Tamil Nadu in the semi-final of the 1976-77 Ranji Trophy. He scored 86 in a 199-run stand with the batting icon and ensured Bombay had no more wicketkeeping worries, even for the final at Delhi where Mumbai beat Bishan Singh Bedi's team by 129 runs.

    The curtain came down on Ashar's domestic career after two games in the next season.

    Gavaskar, who was his opening partner from their ACC days, got a chance to see Ashar in hospital recently. "Get up Kiran, put your pads on. We have to open the innings and the umpires have walked out," Gavaskar exclaimed to an immobile Ashar.

    "Kiran was a lovely man. He unfortunately got injured while 'keeping in his first game for Mumbai else he would have played for a long time and maybe for India, since he was a fine batsman too. Today, if you see (Wriddhiman) Saha 'keeping, it will give you an idea how good Kiran Ashar was as a wicketkeeper. Above all, as I said, a lovely man. Sincere condolences to his family," Gavaskar told me on Monday.

    Ashar was a generous man, with his time and gifts. He'd go out of his way to make someone feel comfortable. When Karsan Ghavri came to Mumbai from Saurashtra and worked for ACC, he resided at Ashar's residence for the first few months before moving to Ashar's family office at Dadar. Ghavri reckoned Ashar was the best Mumbai wicketkeeper he played with. "Kiran was like my elder brother. When I came to Mumbai in 1970, I had only two friends – Kiran and Shankar More. Every month, on pay day, Kiran used to take us to Sunder's at Flora Fountain to order two sets of clothes. I developed a love for good clothes from Kiran," said Ghavri.

    In 1988, Ashar got involved in coaching. He coached St Mary's to a memorable Giles Shield win over Shardashram Vidyamandir, which had Sachin Tendulkar in their ranks. He later coached under-privileged boys at Shivaji Park. He made a lot of friends while coaching.

    You didn't have to be someone significant to be Ashar's friend. Anyone was welcome to share a meal or a cup of tea with him at his Worli residence. There was always room at his table. He was my dearest friend.

    mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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