From reaching a lofty pedestal in the previous season, Mumbai cricket has hit a new low in the current. Mumbai teams emerged triumphant in the under-16, under-25 and Ranji Trophy national championships while finishing runners-up in Under-19 in 2012-13.
In the current 2013-14 season, their age-group teams did not go beyond the league phase while their Ranji Trophy side exited in the quarterfinal on Saturday. Coach Sulakshan Kulkarni, dejected with their bowlers’ performances when they failed to defend 251, said after losing to Maharashtra by eight wickets on Saturday: “The players need to play more day matches before the Ranji Trophy season. Before the 2012-13 season, we played more matches, especially in Buchi Babu and KSCA tournaments in the south. Before the start of this season, it was only in Nagpur. Players need to get into form by playing more matches before the season.”
Kulkarni, 46 years and who took over the reins of Mumbai coach at the start of 2011-12 season, said that his team did well with whoever was available, especially among the bowlers, rather than blame the premature exit on those not present. Asked if the team suffered because of the absence of Ajit Agarkar (due to retirement), Ramesh Powar, Dhawal Kulkarni or Ankeet Chavan, the former wicketkeeper-batsman said: “This year has been a big positive with bowlers like Vishal Dabholkar (39 wickets), Shardul Thakur (27 wickets) and Javed Khan (24 wickets) doing really well. Last year, we struggled in the league phase. This season, we won four matches in the league with the young bowlers doing well. Whatever was the strength of our team, we tried our best.
“If you look at other teams, they had a constant captain. In Mumbai, the changes were bound to happen. You expect the captain to change (when the regular captain is on India duty). Whatever you get, you play with it.”
Kulkarni did not take away the credit from Maharashtra’s comfortable victory. “You need skill, temperament, guts, tactics to win, and they did everything right. Kedar Jadhav and Vijay Zol batted brilliantly. Our bowlers could have done better.”
It was so ironical that Mumbai lost after taking the first innings lead in the match in which Sunil Gavaskar, former Ranji Trophy winning captain for Mumbai and legendary Indian opening batsman, made his debut as a television commentator in a domestic match.
However, with the team going through a transition phase, Mumbai cricket will take some time to settle down into a unit that it is famous for. Perhaps, the knock-out punch in the quarterfinal has come as a perfect wake up call.