Not many so-called Cricket Crazies will notice, that the Mumbai Cricket team is playing it’s 500th Ranji Game today. Many who would read this statement would ask, “SO WHAT?”
And for that, I am feeling elated to be born in Mumbai, and having learnt what little cricket I have played, in Mumbai. Though I wasn’t fortunate to play much competitive cricket in the megapolis, still my attachment with the Mumbai Ranji Team remains. I feel euphoric every time Mumbai wins the Ranji Trophy, and shed a silent tear when they lose. At the cost of being territorial, I still say, that the best Cricket culture in India, is still in Mumbai.
In the crowded International schedule of Cricket, my eyes still spot the minute abridged scores of Mumbai team in Domestic tourneys very keenly. As I write this piece, Mumbai has been shot out by Baroda for a mere 171 on the first day of the 500th game, but still somewhere in my mind, the avid Mumbai fan is screaming, MUMBAI WILL BOUNCE BACK IN THE GAME. There are two teams, which I have never ceased to love in my cricket following life, Mumbai and the West Indies irrespective of they are winning or losing.
I followed the Mumbai Cricket team in their full pomp, through their lean patches, and through thick and thin. There was a time when Wadekar, Engineer, Gavaskar, Vengsarkar were on national duty, the second-string Mumbai side was also good enough to win the Ranji Trophy. Ghulam Parkar, Ramnath Paarkar, Alan Sippy, Lalchand Rajput, Guru Gupte, Chandrakant Pandit, Vinod Kambli, Praveen Amre were good enough to win the National Championship Final consistently. Not many teams can boast of having won the National championship of a game for one and a half decade on the trot, as Mumbai did from 1958-59 to 1972-73.
This was not achieved by fluke. The commitment of Mumbai Cricketers to their game has been exemplary. The team takes excellent care of their budding talent exceptionally well too, affording maximum exposure. A 14-year Sachin Tendulkar was made to share his room in the first season with the veteran Suru Nayak, who kept a close watch on the teenager, ensuring that he ate well, got a good sleep, and was in best shape mentally and physically all the time, even if he didn’t play a single Ranji game that season. A Prithvi Shaw, who now has set the Indian first-class scene ablaze with a string of centuries is also being closely followed by the Mumbai fans for the last 8 years, and so was Rohit Sharma when he was virtually unknown. Not only the selectors, but the fans too have a keen eye for talent in Mumbai. They do not get awed by Arjun Tendulkar’s inclusion in Mumbai U19 just because he is Sachin’s son, or by the one-time feat of Pranav Dhanawade, who scored above 1000 runs in a single knock. They value consistency, and are not excited by flashes in the pan. The fans too are “Khadus” like the players, and that is the essence of Mumbai Cricket. No quarter given, no quarter asked for!
And the players whom the fans adore, don’t disappoint them too. There is Sudhakar Adhikari, who had a match scheduled for the wedding day, asked the pundit to get him married at 9am, reported for the match at 10 am, scored a century in the match, and was again on the stage for his wedding reception in the evening. Such was the confidence the Mumbai batsmen over the years have instilled in the team, that in the 60s, when Mumbai captain won the toss and elected to bat at Brabourne, the tail enders would go to the nearby Eros or Regal theatres to catch the matinee show. No wonder that the gods of Indian batsmanship have consistently reincarnated themselves in Mumbai. Vijay Merchant, Vijay Manjrekar, Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar, Sachin Tendulkar, and now young Prithvi Shaw. They were all not always as flashy as a Kohli or a Sehwag, but you could depend on them for your life. They would sell their wickets dearly, and compromise playing to the galleries in the interest of the stability of the team.
When we talk about batsmen, it would be criminal not to mention the bowlers. Though a few in numbers, these bowlers played a huge part in the Mumbai dominance in Ranji Trophy. Ramakant Desai, Subhash Gupte, Zaheer Khan, Ajit Agarkar shone for the national team too, but it was the prodigal and unheralded Padmakar Shivalkar who was the true spearhead of the Mumbai bowling attack. Though generally the Mumbai Cricketers are not too good as fieldsman, Eknath Solkar, the best fielder the country has produced is from Mumbai. Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane have been excelling in the fielding in the current generation, but there is a huge void in between. Not having a brilliant fielding side has been the only chink in the Mumbai side, but the sheer batting abilities of the side has hidden the flaw very beautifully.
My Personal Favourites:
Bowler : Padmakar Shivalkar – The silent assasin
Batsman : Sunil Gavaskar – The Rock of Gibraltar
Fielder : Eknath Solkar – Quicksilver Hands, gazelle footed, And the scourge of Geoffrey Boycott
Wicketkeeper : Farrokh Engineer – A lot of Style, and with Substance.
Umpire: Madhav Gothoskar – When the finger went up, it was never crooked. The fairest of judges !
When any team in the nation faces Mumbai, they well know that they are up against the most clinical sides in the game, always equipped with tricks and full of abilities. The Mumbai side is like a crouched tiger always.
After all, they have won the national title 44 times out of 67!
Kudos to the Khadus Mumbai Cricket team !!!
Special thanks to Sanjeev Sathe , who is an avid cricket fan and a dear friend of ours for contributing this wonderful article