Cadbury, the chocolate business, chose to celebrate the unsung ground personnel this IPL season by providing five-star accommodations.
Vasant Mohite, a 57-year-old IPL groundskeeper at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium, used to wonder what it was like to stay at one of the luxury hotels along the seaside promenade whenever he crossed Marine Drive. It was a fantasy he couldn’t afford.
But that desire has come true this IPL season, with Cadbury, the candy manufacturer, agreeing to provide five-star accommodations to thank the unsung ground staff.
Moreover, they’ve also been given Masaba-designed uniforms, food, and a bus to transport them from the hotel to the ground and back.
According to sources, Vasant says “A miracle”.
Meanwhile, he claims he heard rumours about them being put up in a IPL five-star hotel before the season started, but he didn’t believe it.
“Then one day, MCA (Mumbai Cricket Association) told us that Cadbury would take care of our accommodation (for the season). They would give us clothes and food for the next two months of IPL,” recalls Vasant, seated on a cushion with a view of the Arabian Sea hugging the Marine Drive, according to sources.
Further, he recalls how different, and often tough, things were in the past. They couldn’t go home because the matches were frequently late, and their shifts were considerably later. As a result, they’d spend the night in a cramped room beneath the Vittal Divecha Stand at the stadium, where mosquitos made sleeping impossible.
“Machhar kaat ke deemag kharab kar deta hai (mosquitoes would drive us mad). After the match, we could not go anywhere as train services were shut. So we would sleep in our office on the ground itself. If there is no game, we reach the stadium by 9 am and leave by 6 pm. But on match days, we come in early, and the MCA pays double if we work late,” says Vasant, dressed in khaki shorts and a neat white shirt, according to sources.
However, he has a fresh set of worries in his new quarters. He says it was tough to find the lamp switch. So much so that he doesn’t even turn on the lights. He enjoys a decent night’s sleep, but he complains that the mattress is a little too soft.
“Walking to the dressing room is different now. We have our own bus which drops us. We don’t have words… the only thing we can say is thank you,” says Nitin Mohite, another groundskeeper.
IPL Groundsman recalls former Cricketer Mohammed Kaif
Vasant recalls how two years ago, former cricketer Mohammed Kaif walked in and hugged him. He told his fellow commentators what Kaif said, “Under-19 se yehi hum logon ke seva karte tha (he has been supporting us from the U-19 days),” Vasant was ecstatic.
In addition, he says, the new generation, on the other hand, lacks the same warmth and appears to be lost in their own world, according to Vasant, who has worked as a match-day dressing-room attendant since the 1990s, serving players and support personnel and giving towels, soaps, and ice.
Further, he claims to have had the good fortune of being able to observe some legendary players up close. His service spans generations, from Sunil Gavaskar to Prithvi Shaw. He witnessed Sachin Tendulkar’s rise and fall, as well as Vinod Kambli’s rise and collapse.
Meanwhile, he has a soft spot for IPL Mumbai players, to say the least. “They have been the best for me. They come and ask about my haal-chaal (well being). Kambli, Tendulkar, Ajit Agarkar — they used to make sure I never felt uncomfortable inside the dressing room. I have seen how passionate Amol Muzumdar was about his game. He would get upset the most whenever he got out,” he says.
According to the sources, Vasant, on the other hand, quietly moves to another room when he notices someone is disappointed. Players need space, I have seen players getting angry and getting happy. I have seen how Tendulkar walked back crying. When he went and touched the pitch at the end of his retirement game, I couldn’t control myself. For the next two days, my heart was full,” he says.