For the last four years, Aditya Tare has consistently faced the challenge of performing the rescue act for his team. It started off with taking over the captaincy of a struggling Mumbai side mid-way through the 2014-15 season from Suryakumar Yadav amidst reports of infighting, scoring a century in his first match as a captain and saving them the ignominy of a possible relegation. He led them to the title in his first full year as captain the next year and over the next few seasons, he would bail the team out of precarious situations, with his bat in the middle and lower middle-order and break wicket-keeping records (most dismissals by a wicketkeeper in Ranji Trophy season, twice).
However, times change quickly and so do circumstances. Cut to 2018 and tough times have knocked at Tare’s door. He lost the captaincy at the start of the season after Mumbai were knocked out of the quarter-final of Ranji and Vijay Hazare trophies and lost three out of their four Syed Mushtaq Ali games (in second stage, finishing fourth out of five teams). Tare himself endured a tough season with the bat averaging 23.7 in Ranji, 26.57 in List A and 24.16 in T20s. It might have been one bad season but representing Mumbai comes with added pressure to perform consistently. He didn’t get a single chance in the Indian Premier League after making his return to Mumbai Indians earlier this year and over the years, hasn’t grabbed whatever little opportunities that have come his way in the league. The 2018-19 season now becomes crucial for the Chembur boy.
As he heads into his tenth year in domestic cricket, he faces a different challenge – of performing the rescue act for himself.
The first step towards that rescue act was performed at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bengaluru ten days ago. With Mumbai reeling at 40/4 in the 8th over, chasing 178 against Delhi, Tare strode out and played a doughty innings of 71 off 89 balls to guide Mumbai past the finish line.
“Honestly, I feel it was the most important innings I have played throughout my Mumbai career,” Tare reflects on the innings as we sit down for a chat on the balcony of MCA stadium in the BKC. “It’s got to be the most important one because I have always dreamt of winning championships for Mumbai and for that you need to contribute, that’s how you make that championship special,” he adds.
Tare has scored seven centuries, all in first-class cricket, and played numerous gritty innings but the fact that he terms the Vijay Hazare innings as the most important of his Mumbai career paints a picture of the importance of the situation.
What stood out in the Vijay Hazare final innings was the calm he brought amidst the storm with the top four succumbing to impatience.
“I have been working on my mental aspect and on other factors, not just cricket but in life as well. So those sort of practices and routines helped me calm down in the middle. Unlike the other times where I was pretty tensed and hyper, this time around I was pretty calm and I was only trying to watch the ball and batting accordingly.”
This calmness hasn’t crept in overnight. Tare has added a new dimension to life by embracing spirituality, trying to get a different perspective and search out new things.
“I have been following certain patterns, meditation and visualisation techniques. Trying to understand life in a different way rather than just through the cricketing angle or a sportsman’s angle. It’s about understanding life, what goes beyond life. That’s really eased me. It’s given me a different perspective towards life and I guess that’s the reason why I am pretty calm and centered at the moment.”
Try to delve deep into spirituality and he explains, “It’s just trying to connect with myself, trying to connect with the higher self, the higher being. Trying to understand the mysterious ways of God. Just trying to connect with my inner self, that’s something I have been reaching out for.”
Tare has also sought help of psychologist Mugdha Bavare who is associated with MCA to adopt different techniques to help him in the middle. You can sense his relaxed state of mind as he speaks of losing the captaincy. Chief selector Ajit Agarkar had an honest conversation with Tare stating that they were looking for someone else in the leadership role. Tare is frank in admitting that being the leader, he needed to be held responsible and sacking him was a step in the right direction.
“I wasn’t angry or upset. Not at all. I think it was a fair call,” Tare says when asked if he was hurt by losing the captaincy. “I’ve never demanded or wanted to lead Mumbai, it came my way, and I did my job with complete honesty.
“I am really happy and proud of the way my captaincy career turned out where we won the Ranji Trophy in 2015-16 without a single Test player playing in the team. Obviously, Mumbai is a place where if you don’t have a good season, there needs to be someone taking that responsibility and I think it should come right from the top. I was the captain when we had a disastrous year last year so I needed to be held responsible and I completely agree with that and I am completely fine with it. A new leader who will bring in new and fresh ideas, that’s what’s needed for the team and I am glad it happened. You can see the result, there was one change at the top and you could see a positive result (Vijay Hazare win).”
In fact, losing the captaincy could be a blessing in disguise.
“It’s time in my career that I play with some freedom, less stress and less things to do on the field. So I can completely focus on my game and on things I want to do. Captaincy obviously takes a bit of toll on you, mentally as well.” he says.
Tare still harbours the dream of playing Test cricket for India. But in a day and time where even scoring 1000-1200 runs in a season doesn’t guarantee you a spot in the Indian team, isn’t it time for a huge step up? Tare’s highest scoring season in domestic cricket was the 2012-13 one, his first full season, where he aggregated 859 runs at an average of 45.21 and overall, he possesses a middling average of 37 in First-class cricket.
Tare is of the opinion that it’s the consistency over a longer period and the impact it produces that matter.
“It’s about longevity, it’s about scoring heaps of runs over a period of time,” Tare argues. “That’s how you justify your place or spot at international level. Getting 500-600 runs is not the aim. The thing is I have been consistently getting 500-600 runs which says that I am good enough at this level. One season of less runs doesn’t make me a bad player.”
Apart from the 2013-14 season (589 runs) where he came very close and last season, Tare has scored more than 600 runs in each of the rest four seasons in first-class circuit. However, what’s hurting him is the lack of three-digit scores. In the last two years he hasn’t scored any and overall he has just seven from 103 innings. He knows it and its importance too.
“That’s how you get recognised, that’s how you get judged at the moment on the number of hundreds you score,” he says. “Obviously I have to consider that as well that to get recognised or to get rated by people who matter, you need to score runs, you need to score hundreds that’s something I haven’t ticked in the past season or two. But I have played some important innings and I have won a lot of games for Bombay so that’s the confidence I have in myself. Even if I wouldn’t be getting hundreds, I know that I score important runs for the team so for me that’s more important than scoring hundreds. But obviously you cannot ignore the fact the I am not a big hundred player or I am a batsman who regularly scores hundreds. It’s something I have to add to my career.”
Tare has been working on the aspect of prolonging his innings and primarily on reducing his mistakes after crossing the 50-70-run mark. One argument in favour of Tare could be that he’s never had a settled batting position. He’s opened the batting, played one down, and batted at 4, 5, 6 and 7. He’s scored most of his centuries while opening the batting – 3, including a double ton. Over the last two years, he’s shuffled between 5 and 6 and 7 where opportunities of scoring a century become somewhat less. He does have his highest average (48.27) batting at No 5, however, he’s scored most of his runs opening the batting (1556). So, would he prefer batting up the order?
“I am not someone who would go and demand that I need to go and bat here or I want to play for India and want to be batting here,” Tare explains. “It’s about playing to the team’s needs, team’s combinations. It’s a team game, I really respect that and it’s always been my mindset that the team comes first. So even when I was the captain, I made sure I play at a number that suits the team rather than suiting me. So wherever the team wants, I will play.”
Captain or not, Tare is ready to don the big brother cap.
“It’s about using the experience that I have got in the past 6-7 seasons and helping the team. Try and pass on my experience to the younger boys and try and create an atmosphere where everyone is comfortable and trying to give their 100 percent.”
It’s not just because of his relaxed state of mind but also the preparedness that emanates positivity this season. This wasn’t the case last year. He struggled with a knee injury which affected his off-season preparations. He couldn’t get games under his belt and train much. Frustrations lingered but it only made him battle-hardened. Some soul-searching helped him come up with the idea of getting into spirituality and the importance of off-season.
“It’s important to be stable not just when you are doing well. I really value off season and am glad this year I could spend time on my body and preparations,” Tare says.
“Am glad I could play a couple of pre-season tournaments. It just taught me that you have to be grateful to whatever opportunities you get even if it’s for a club game, it teaches you a lot. For me, it’s all about being patient and taking the good and the bad in the same stride and same par and not try and get too low or sad about the bad things in life and not get too high and too happy about good performances or good things in life. I am glad that I could get the experience of having a bad season. When you are a little low, you always want to bounce back, want to do better so I am in that phase where I really want to bounce back this season.”
The 30-year-old has a lot of faith in his batting ability and he believes that he’s got an all-round game to play all three formats. All he has done this season is to sharpen his skills. “For me, it’s about getting stronger at your strengths rather than focussing on your weakness or trying to build around your weakness. I don’t believe in that. At the moment at this stage of my career, I feel my strong points, my strong shots need to get stronger. And I can build the game around my stronger points in my batting.”
With the captaincy gone, a bad season with the bat and young competitors in Sufiyan Shaikh and Eknath Kerkar waiting in the wings, there will be pressure, his performances will be pored over and Tare knows it. He also knows that he cannot fail with the bat for two seasons in a row. He knows there are a lot of other factors around him this time but ‘it’s not going to affect me,’ he asserts.
The confidence emanates from the fact that he’s done it all before. He was the second highest run-scorer for Mumbai in Ranji Trophy 2012/13 when Mumbai lifted the trophy under Agarkar. He was the team’s highest run-getter in the next season and third highest in 2014-15.
Heading into the new season, he’s started well with a couple of fifties, and a century in the final of the ACA Dr. Vizzy Trophy. The Vijay Hazare final innings was the spark, a seminal moment Tare desperately needed at a crucial juncture in his career and now the onus is on him to convert this spark into ignition going forward with his new-found tranquility. Time for rescue act V 2.0.
With stats inputs from Umang Pabari