In Tarak Sinha’s death, cricket has lost one of its best students and a great scout. “I am a scout, not a coach,” he would insist. From 1969, when he established the Sonnet Club along with two cricket enthusiasts, Parmod Jain and Sharvan Kumar, he devoted his life to the game, traversing cricket fields in the northern part of the country and picking players to serve their respective States.
Sinha was undergoing treatment for cancer. “I want to live a little more. There are a couple of talented kids and I am keen to see them grow,” he told me when we met in September. As he watched the ‘nets’ from a distance, one felt his desire to go and talk to the students. But the body was weak even though he spoke of his plans for the season with great enthusiasm and optimism.
“Bijay, come to the club tomorrow. I have a talented youngster for you to see,” his warm invitation would attract me to the club, which had its roots in the Roshanara ground. Sonnet travelled to Ajmal Khan Park, Rajdhani College and Piknic Hut before settling down at its current address — Venkateshwara College. “We were cricket nomads, training at any available open space,” Sinha would say with a laugh.
Sinha was a wicketkeeper-batsman and that explained his keen eye to detail. He would watch a youngster with the aim to exploit his strong qualities and rarely failed in his vocation. His appointment letter at the PGDAV College described him as a class IV employee. “So what? I get to coach the cricket team,” he brushed aside the disappointment of not getting the designation of a coach.
At PGDAV College, he brought about a revolution in the early 1980s when he raised a team that won the Delhi University inter-college title, displacing perennial favourites St. Stephen’s and Hindu. He rated that achievement as his best-ever performance since he assembled a bunch of talented youngsters from scratch and pulled off a coup. The cricket title had travelled outside of the north campus for the first time ever.
Rishabh Pant with Tarak Sinha and Davender Sharma. – Special Arrangement
Sinha also broke the dominance of National Institute of Sports (NIS) in the Capital. Ill-informed people spoke of a bitter rivalry between NIS and Sonnet but the two had huge respect for each other’s work. NIS chief Gurcharan Singh, who attended Sinha’s funeral despite his own poor health, described him as the “best eye to pick talent.”
They would laugh at suggestions of rivalry between them. Gurcharan recalled, “Once I was a State selector and we had picked a team for under-16 and made the announcement, too. Tarak brought to my notice that his students had missed the trials since they were away playing a tournament. He said they were good and I trusted his word. I asked him to send his best six players and I picked four out of them. They were extremely gifted players. Where was the question of rivalry?”
Sinha believed in gurukul training. He would make his students understand the importance of the ground staff’s responsibility. “He would make us roll and prepare the pitch, tend the outfield and taught us the art of maintaining the equipment. He was strict but he was equally kind,” recalled K. P. Bhaskar, one of his most loved trainees.
Few are aware of the magnanimity that marked Sinha’s work. From paying school fees to providing free equipment to those who couldn’t afford to buy, he would be the mentor off the field, spending time with families of the students to provide life lessons. After losing his wife in an accident within months of their marriage, Sinha dedicated his time to cricket. “He was a cricket yogi really,” noted former India star Manoj Prabhakar.
FROM THE ARCHIVES: Unsung hero
He loved travelling to small towns to identify talent. Often they came to him because his name was synonymous with quality cricket coaching. “Do you have a laptop to guide you?” I teased him once. He smiled, “I have nothing against coaches who rely on technology, but I trust my natural judgment. I can tell you after watching six deliveries how good the batsman or the bowler is.”
It was an education to observe Sinha’s work on those lovely winter afternoons at the Venkateshwara ground. He would be engaged in an intense conversation with you and suddenly the air would be pierced with his angry response. “One more cross-batted shot and you won’t bat for a week,” a warning would go to a youngster. It was remarkable how he would keep such a sharp eye on the ‘nets’ and analyse the individual’s performance so unerringly. “Your left foot was never close to the pitch of the ball” or “you were over-stepping too much.” His eyes never left the ‘nets’ and he would have each student’s report card ready by the end of the day.
Tarak Sinha with former India women’s team players Anjum Chopra, Neetu David and Deepa Marathe. Sinha was the coach of India’s women’s cricket team for a brief period. – R.V. Moorthy
Sinha never liked reeling off names of his successful trainees. The list was long but some were prominent, having represented India — Surinder Khanna, Randhir Singh, Raman Lamba, Manoj Prabhakar, Sanjeev Sharma, Ajay Sharma, Atul Wassan, Aakash Chopra, Ashish Nehra, Shikhar Dhawan and Rishabh Pant. He always felt sad when reminded of Bhaskar being denied an India cap. “It is for the students to claim I was their coach. I don’t discriminate between those who played international cricket and those who did not,” was Sinha’s view.
The Dronacharya Award (for Lifetime Achievement) was too late a recognition for his excellent services to the game. He never craved for laurels from the State or the Board but did pick up the cudgels to stand up for his trainees. Former State wicketkeeper-batsman Devendra Sharma stood by Sinha in his journey to make Sonnet an iconic club. For Devendra, serving Sinha at the club and hospital, was selfless service.
“I have seen Sir from close for more than two decades. You won’t get another human being like him. A crafty coach, he was very kind to those who could not afford to pay the fees. He made them comfortable and many of them went on to do well in life. Sir would find employment for them. He would give financial assistance readily. For me, he was a father more than a coach. Life will not be the same for many like me,” said a devastated Devendra.
Tarak Sinha with his ward Ashish Nehra. – Vijay Lokapally
“Ustad ji, my name is Vijay,” I would protest with a smile. “Ek hee baat hai Bijay (it’s the same),” would be his warm response. We knew each other for 45 years. Sonnet Club was Sinha’s most precious gift to Delhi cricket. In turn, cricket in India stood to gain from his rich stable of international players.
An anecdote to highlight his dedication. Early in his career, keeping wickets for Sonnet, he was hit on the forehead and bled profusely. He was rushed to a nearby hospital. After dressing the wound, he returned to resume his role even though it was a struggle. Why? “I did not want any of my students to be afraid of being hit,” he replied. It took a whole for Sinha to recover but that day he set an example of fearlessness on the field. Learning cricket from Sinha was never a physical agony. It was an art for him to keep the trainee energetic. The crusading Sinha leaves behind a rich legacy of playing cricket as it should be.
As he lay on the hospital bed on the night of November 5, head tilted and body surviving through maximum life-supporting system, I felt him say, “Bijay, come to the club tomorrow. I have a talented youngster for you to see.” The last one was Rishabh Pant. Trainees at Sonnet will remember his discipline and teaching. “Don’t ever bring disrepute to the club. It’s your temple of learning cricket and life.”
Sinha, a celebrated cricket student and scout, was 71.
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