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Former India opener Madhav Apte dies at 86

Madhav Apte MiD DAY Infomedia Ltd

Madhav Apte, the former India Test opener, died in Mumbai's Breach Candy Hospital on Monday, aged 86. He was the fourth-oldest living Indian Test cricketer, younger only to DK Gaekwad, CD Gopinath and Chandrakant Patankar.

In his seven Tests for India in 1952-53, Apte averaged 49.27, the highlight being a match-saving, unbeaten 163 against West Indies in Port of Spain. Five of his seven Tests were played on that tour of the Caribbean, where it seemed he was the next big thing in Indian cricket, averaging over 50 and finishing second on the runs charts for India.

But he never played for India again.

Chandu Borde, who played one Test with Apte, described him as "a lively person who was involved heavily in the development of the Mumbai Cricket Association".

"Since Madhav was senior to me, we would meet outside the playing field - at parties or functions - but his contribution to Mumbai cricket is enormous," Borde told ESPNcricinfo. "He had a big role to play in the structure of what we know as Mumbai Cricket Association today. As a cricketer, he was a technically sound batsman and an excellent fielder. Madhav was a lively person, who loved sport, not just cricket. He had an excellent knowledge of badminton too."

"Extremely sad at the passing away of Shri Madhavrao Apte," former India and Mumbai batsman Sunil Gavaskar said in a statement. "He was a true aficionado of our beloved game and just couldn't have enough of it. The cricketing get-togethers at his house made for memorable evenings with enlightening cricket talk with the who's who of cricket. I will miss those evenings, listening to him along with some of the greatest names in Indian cricket."

Shishir Hattangadi, the prolific Mumbai run-getter from the 1980s and early 1990s, said, "I hadn't met him for a couple of months, he hadn't been keeping well. There were age-related complications. I was told that he suffered a cardiac arrest this morning. The memories are of a lovely human being, he embraced sports romantics, a lovely man to spend time with.

"He would tell you stories of people and events you have only heard of. But he rarely spoke about his own career. Very dignified, he didn't want to talk about it. He was a senior that you respected, someone you could spend a lot of time with. A very simple man. A great loss, but he lived his life well."

In all, Apte's first-class career ran 17 years, from 1951-52 to 1967-68. He scored a first-class ton on debut for Mumbai in 1952, and promptly went on to make his Test debut as a 20-year-old during Pakistan's tour of India later that year. Next up was the tour of the Caribbean.

ALSO READ: In conversation with Madhav Apte

Against a West Indies attack that included Sonny Ramadhin, Alf Valentine and Frank King, Apte struck 64 and 52 in the first Test, 64 again in the second, and followed that up with that unbeaten second-innings 163 in the third Test to secure a draw for India and average 51.11 for the series.

Following the tour of the West Indies, India had no Tests scheduled in 1954. He was part of the Silver Jubilee Commonwealth XI match in 1954, playing for India against West Indies to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the BCCI. But he wasn't at his best by the time India's next Test assignment came about, and was overlooked.

Apte, whose younger brother Arvind also played a Test in 1959, had begun his career as a legbreak bowler before intervention from the great Vinoo Mankad - his coach at college - turned him into an opening batsman. Apte later confessed that he learnt the art of batting by observing Vijay Merchant bat in the nets every morning in Mumbai. It was Merchant's subsequent injury in 1952 that handed Apte a first-class debut for Mumbai.

After his first-class retirement, Apte moved to Malaysia on work but continued to turn out in the Kanga League in Mumbai, representing the club side Jolly Cricketers. He played over 50 seasons of the Kanga League, last featuring in a game at the age of 70. Between 1948 and 2002, Apte made more than 5000 runs in the Kanga League.

In 1989, Apte became the president of Cricket Club of India in Mumbai, one of the oldest clubs for the sport in the country. He was also instrumental in bringing a 14-year-old Sachin Tendulkar into the CCI side. Recalling what he thought of Tendulkar's talent back then, Apte once said: "One sees a hell of a lot of talent at the age of 14, 16, and so on. Not all of that talent really matures because the future, no one can predict. [But] at that time, my comment in the dressing room was, 'If this boy keeps his head on his shoulders, he will play for India sooner than later.' But even the lord almighty could not have seen that he would go on to get hundred hundreds and so on."