The only Ranji Trophy final under floodlights was between domestic powerhouses Mumbai and Delhi in Gwalior from April 5 to 9, 1997. Amol Muzumdar, who top-scored for Mumbai with 144 in a high-scoring affair on a flat pitch narrates some of the untold tales from the final 25 years later.
It was your first game against Delhi, right?
Yes, in the Ranji Trophy. Faced Delhi frequently in Under-19s and scored a hundred in every match.
When did you all learn that the final was going to be played under the floodlights? Was it planned well in advance?
No, after the semifinals. On the last day of the semifinal, we heard someone saying it was going to be under the lights and I wondered how they would make it happen! When we returned to Mumbai, we were formally informed that it was going to be a floodlit final. There used to be a seven to eight-day break between the semifinal and the final, so we could train for five-six days. Mumbai's team was so well-oiled that we would just operate like a machine. Be it with floodlights or anything else, didn’t really matter then.
So what was the biggest challenge in the final? Delhi’s resistance, floodlights or the swarms of insects right through the match?
Actually, you are chronologically accurate. Delhi had a strong team. Raman Lamba was there, Ajay Sharma, they had a strong team, Atul Wassan. They had some terrific players. Even we were equally solid. When the match started, there must have been 20,000 spectators watching it from the stands in Gwalior. Of them, 19,996 were Delhi supporters. The four Mumbai supporters were my father and his friend who had travelled from Mumbai, my brother-in-law’s friend had come down from Indore to Gwalior with someone. That’s it. Barring these four, everyone else was rooting for Delhi but it didn’t really matter for us then. I had told my partner (Ruhi) that I would score a hundred in the semifinal and the final. And my father - he would always watch most of my matches at the Wankhede - was upset that he couldn’t watch the semis, so I told him to come down for the final. “You come over, I’ll hit a hundred in the final,” I told him. He left it at that. So he did the bookings on his own. The next thing I know that he is already there in the stands. That’s also a reason for this being a memorable season. I could score a hundred in the final, and that too against Delhi. It gave me a different satisfaction. That match in itself taught me so much.
Ashu Dani and Ajay Sharma’s partnership kept Delhi in the hunt but it was followed up with two run-outs. Do you remember them and what were your standout moments from the game?
You mean Delhi’s run-outs, right? Because I wasn’t to be blamed for Mumbai’s run-outs. Jokes apart, I vividly remember those run-outs. We scored 630. I would like to tell another tale about Sanjay Manjrekar’s captaincy here. Around the 580-run mark (575/7), Paras Mhambrey joined me in the middle. He may have hit 97 against Gujarat earlier in the season but he was a tailender anyway. I started throwing the bat around and played two-three rash strokes and immediately there was a message. I remember Rajesh Sutar ran in and delivered a message: “Sanjay says chakkugiri band kar (stop fooling around). Put your head down and bat properly. I don’t know how many runs will be enough on this pitch.” The way I am, I followed that advice and added about 50-55 runs with Paras and others. As luck would have it, we won by 70 runs (71) in the end. So it was marginal. That’s where I learnt a lesson about how to read a situation and how a captain should be prompt in passing on a message. There’s no point in saying anything later on in the dressing room. Had I been dismissed then and then for him to bash me by saying there was no need of throwing it away, all that wouldn’t have mattered at all. A leader has to know the message to be passed on at a particular moment. That was one education.
The second one was, on the last day, Delhi had left too many runs to score. They could have virtually killed the contest on the fourth night (Delhi was 365/2), but they played a little slow. So while walking back into the dressing room, Sulakshan Kulkarni and I were chatting about whether they had left a little too many runs to score on the last day. The next day, Sanjay, I and Atul Wassan had been invited for breakfast by a local person. So the three of us were together over breakfast and Atul inadvertently happened to mention: “You all should win this, yaar.” We were not sure who was in a dominant position, so I just stared at Sanjay and he just responded through eye contact we’ll discuss later. Once Atul left, we sort of discussed that we were thinking we were in a difficult situation but they are the team under pressure. So that gave us confidence and things started rolling. Had we not got that message, maybe things could have been different. But once we caught that message over breakfast that Delhi is solid under pressure, it became easy. It just underlined you should always keep your cards close to the chest. These two incidents will stay with me forever. In terms of strategy, Sanjay was fantastic and execution-wise, all the players were just following him.
What was the celebration like after winning the Ranji Trophy? Did anyone throw a party in Gwalior?
What can you do in Gwalior? I think we caught the train at 2 am. The match finished around 10 o’clock, we had a bit of fun in the dressing room, returned to the hotel and then boarded the train from Gwalior to Delhi I think and flew down from Delhi. I think it was an early morning flight to Mumbai but I remember the next day, the MCA had organised a beautiful function. Ajit Wadekar sir had come. But it was kind of a routine affair, having won yet another Ranji Trophy. It wasn’t an extraordinary celebration as such. More than that year, we had amazing celebrations after the 94-95 final and 1999-2000 final after beating Hyderabad.