Mumbai didn’t lose, Gujarat won!

Gujarat is fanatical about cricket, but the one reason that it has not produced enduring cricketers for India is the thinking that it is only a sport and not a profession. Now that cricket has become a great career option, thanks to the IPL, parents are not averse to allowing their children to take up the sport, if they find that they have some talent for it. This change in perception and the Ranji win will most certainly drive more youngsters to take up the game in Gujarat.

K. MURALI KUMAR

The Gujarat team doing a lap of honour at the Holkar Cricket Stadium in Indore after its Ranji Trophy triumph.   -  K. MURALI KUMAR

Way back in 1971 when India beat England at The Oval to win the three-Test series, the sentiment expressed in most British papers was that it would be great for the game in India. At that time it looked like a very condescending statement, typical of the British cricketing scene then.

India had been in love with cricket since a long time before and so while The Oval win, closely following the first ever win against the West Indies in the Caribbean a couple of months earlier, took the interest levels even higher, it didn’t do anything special for Indian cricket.

 

What certainly helped Indian cricket was the victory in the World Cup in 1983, which boosted one-day cricket’s popularity to stratospheric levels, as did the T20 World Cup triumph, which made India look differently at the shortest form of cricket.

The 1983 win, seen on colour TV all over India, was a game changer alright. Till then most players themselves didn’t take the game too seriously as they thought it would never truly reflect their cricketing ability.

The thinking towards the one-day game had started to change a few years earlier in Australia, where for the first time India played a tri-series, with New Zealand being the third team. Suddenly, from playing just the odd one-day game at the end of a Test series, India had to play 10 games, five against host Australia and five against New Zealand, and if it qualified for the finals then perhaps three more matches. There was good prize money on offer too, with a car as the award for the player of the tournament. So, instead of just turning up on the day and playing the game, never mind the result, the team started to plan and strategise as to how to go about winning the game. In fact, India surprised Australia in the first game of the tri-series, but was unable to keep the momentum going and reach the finals.

What it did, however, was to make the Indian team take the one-day game more seriously and plan for every opposition and every game. The fruit of all that was the incredible win in the World Cup, thwarting the dream of the West Indies team of a hat-trick in the championship. It was followed by another win in the World Championship of Cricket in Australia, where only the Test playing nations were invited to participate to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the State of Victoria.

Till 2007 India resisted the T20 form of cricket strongly. The administrators believed that the format was not good for the primary form of the game, Test cricket, and so were not enthused with the idea of the T20 World Cup. Perceptions changed dramatically after India won that inaugural edition of the World Cup. And with the IPL coming in with a bang a few months later, India was engulfed by the T20 fever and is still infected with it.

When Gujarat beat defending champion Mumbai, with as emphatic a win as possible, many a Mumbai supporter said things similar to what the England supporters had said when India won in 1971, that this win was great for Gujarat cricket. While this is not untrue, it does sound as if Mumbai may have allowed the Gujarat team to win by not being as competitive as it usually is. That is far from the truth, for the Parthiv Patel-led team won four out of the five days of cricket that was seen at the Holkar ground in Indore. Don’t forget that in the group stage too, Gujarat had pipped Mumbai, so its dominance was complete when it won the final and lifted the coveted Ranji Trophy for the first time.

Gujarat is fanatical about cricket, but the one reason that it has not produced enduring cricketers for India is the thinking that it is only a sport and not a profession. Thus many a promising player has had to turn his back on the game after a few years to focus on earning a living. The Gujaratis are adept at business and so most of the state’s players quickly take up some trade or the other and are thus lost to the game.

The IPL has changed all that with the money it has brought into the game. One need not even be an IPL player. Playing just the first class game in India is quite rewarding these days. Now that cricket has become a great career option, parents are not averse to allowing their children to take up the sport if they find that they have some talent for it. This change in perception and the Ranji win will most certainly drive more youngsters to take up the game in Gujarat and it won’t be a surprise if we see many more from that state light up the scene with their skills over the years.

The very same IPL, though, could also have been the culprit for Mumbai’s loss, as most of its batsmen have simply forgotten the art of playing a long innings. The aspect of biding one’s time, while the ball gets old and the bowlers get tired, is a thing of the past as Mumbai’s batsmen think that attack is the best policy.

In a season in which five triple hundreds were scored by batsmen of other teams in the Ranji Trophy, a Mumbai batsman’s highest score was 194, not even a double hundred.

No wonder, when it came to the crunch, the Mumbai batsmen did not have the stamina, both physical and mental, to play big innings. The kind, that would have given their team a total that could have proved daunting for the opposition. Mumbai’s batsmen have invariably won the the team trophies. But, this time, it was the batsmen, who with their careless approach, cost Mumbai this year’s Ranji Trophy.