Sparks that triggered Mumbai’s resurgence in Ranji Trophy

As Mumbai play their 500th match, former and current captains recalled what made the team one of the best in domestic cricket.

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Mumbai with the Ranji Trophy.

Like how a spark can cause a major fire hazard, small incidents have triggered many a Ranji Trophy triumph for Mumbai. Former Mumbai captain Amol Muzumdar and current skipper Aditya Tare gave instances of how certain small things have made them determined to lead their side to glory.

Stories like these and many more reminisced by Mumbai’s great cricketers at the Mumbai Cricket Association’s celebration on Wednesday evening to mark its Ranji Trophy team’s 500th match made what Mumbai cricket a team to look up to in the more-than-eight decades of the premier domestic tournament.

Muzumdar, who scored 260 in his first-class debut in 1993-94 for Mumbai, and led the team to triumph in the 2006-07, said the premature celebration of Hyderabad just outside the boundary line with champagne when they still needed 20 runs to win triggered the spark in the team.

“That season was a unique one for us. Mumbai had not won any of their first three matches that season. It was not a pleasant sight to see Hyderabad celebrate with champagne outside the boundary line (in Hyderabad) with some 20 of their association officials including Shivlal Yadav (former India off-spinner and then HCA office-bearer). We lost to Hyderabad for the first ever time. There was some serious talk in the dressing room after that when I said that Mumbai was not playing the way it should,” Muzumdar recalled.

After that, Mumbai went on to win their remaining Super League matches in must-win situations. “Then came the semifinal when we were zero for five wickets against Baroda (Moti Bagh ground). We made 233 in the first innings and given the pitch, it was as good as 400.

Vinayak Samant played a gem of an innings and we went on to win that match and then the final at home in Mumbai against Bengal,” Muzumdar said.

Tare, who led Mumbai to their 41st title in 2015-16, gave credit to Pravin Amre, who coached the side the previous season before Chandrakant Pandit took over.

“When we started the 2015-16, I told Chandu sir that there had to be stability in the squad and players they should feel secure about their places in the squad. I wanted the players to play with passion and for the team, and not to play to secure their places in the team. I did not want frequent chopping and changing in the side,” Tare said.

The previous season (2014-15), Mumbai lost to Jammu and Kashmir at their home ground, Wankhede. Tare said: “J&K coach Sunil Joshi (former India left-arm spinner) had said this was the worst Mumbai team he had seen”. That made Tare even more determined. Though Mumbai did not win that season, the groundwork for the title began under Amre.

I was not ready to captain: Manjrekar 

Another former Mumbai captain and India middle-order batsman Sanjay Manjrekar said that irrespective of how the players dressed or their choice of earrings, in obvious reference to Vinod Kambli’s flamboyance during his playing days, Mumbai Cricket Association encouraged the talent.

“If Kambli was playing for any other state, he would not have been allowed to continue. That’s what separates Mumbai and the rest,” Manjrekar said.

Manjrekar was the captain when Mumbai went down to Haryana in that epic 1990-91 final by two runs. Manjrekar remembered the season: “I wasn’t ready as captain. With the recent international success, I was walking in the air. But one man ensured that nothing changed in the dressing room and that’s Sachin Tendulkar. My memories of that final was more audio than visual when Vengsarkar and Abey Kuruvilla were having that partnership.”

When final defeat haunted Vengsarkar 

Speaking about that same final, Vengsarkar, who was in the twilight of his career, remembered: “The old Wankhede dressing room had a common toilet for both the teams. After padding up, I went to the rest room and Kapil Dev (Haryana captain) also came at the same time and said, “Ek baar jeetne de, yaar’ (‘let us win one time’) and I told him you have already won as you have already taken three early wickets. ‘Till you are there, we don’t know,’ Kapil replied. But what followed from Sachin Tendulkar was one of the best innings I have ever seen. He changed the complexion of the match.” Vengsarkar himself made an unbeaten 139 and Tendulkar scored 96 to take Mumbai on the brink of victory before Haryana fought back.

Vengsarkar was inconsolable when last man Abey Kuruvilla was run out to give Haryana their first Ranji Trophy title. “The defeat haunted me for a year and it was worse than the feeling I had when I lost the MCA elections to Vilasrao Deshmukh,” Vengsarkar said.

Fielding gave us the edge 

Ajit Wadekar, the Mumbai captain to have led in most Ranji titles – four – said “it was always the dream of opposition to beat Mumbai by hook or crook.”

The 1972-73 final was in Chennai and the hosts prepared a turning track to suit their spinners. But it backfired and the match ended in Mumbai’s favour in two days and a bit with Padmakar Shivalkar and Eknath Solkar picking up 13 and 6 wickets in the match, respectively.

Wadekar recalled: “Tamil Nadu prepared the track for their spinners. But we had good spinners. The problem was batting on spinning track. We have been brought up on playing on the terrible pitches in Kanga League. Another aspect we scored over the opposition was in fielding, and that makes Mumbai so special.”

Desai’s game-changing advice

Another Ranji Trophy winning captain, Sudhir Naik, led Mumbai to title in the absence of their India stars who were on international duty in the West Indies that season. “Having won 12 consecutive years, the seniors in the side said that Mumbai should not lose to Maharashtra in the final. Maharashtra, until then, had scored heavily every match that season with their top three Chetan Chauhan, Madhu Gupte and Hemant Kanitkar in tremendous form. Their exciting batsman Nikhil Saldhana started attacking. “During tea interval, Ramakant Desai (retired by then), came to the dressing room and told me to employ bouncers at Saldhana. On resumption, I instructed pacer Abdul Ismail to bounce at Saldhana, and as it happened, he was out to a short ball caught at deep square leg.”

When Hedley Verity bowled at CCI 

One of the oldest surviving India Test cricketers, Madhav Apte recalled how cricket during the World War years still continued in Mumbai with the Pentangular tournament played in good brotherhood and spirit. He recalled a story that was told to him of the 1940s. “Hedley Verity, left-arm spin England legend of the 1930s, was in Mumbai and the soldiers would roam around the city. He preferred to bowl, and not bat. On one such instance, he was at the Cricket Club of India and asked to bowl. He knocked the stump with his second ball and was asked by the CCI member who was bowled if he played cricket and what his name was.

“When he said ‘Hedley Verity’, the member went about saying how he was privileged to be bowled by Verity.”

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