Spotlight on maidan cricketers in Mumbai’s T20 extravaganza

The T20 Mumbai League will strive to resonate among fans for the next 10 days.

Wankhede Stadium will host the inaugural T20 Mumbai League.   -  PTI

Mumbai Cricket Association’s own brand of Twenty20 cricket is all set to be launched on Sunday when North Mumbai Panthers takes on Arcs Andheri (Mumbai North West) in the T20 Mumbai League at the Wankhede Stadium.

Later the same day, Sobo Supersonics (Mumbai South) locks horns with Mumbai North East Triumph Knights.

The new league, promoted by the MCA in association with a newly-formed sports management company, will strive to resonate among fans and onlookers in the next 10 days as another Twenty20 tourney had done — the DY Patil T20 Cup, organised for the corporate sector in Navi Mumbai, had become popular even among outstation cricketers.

The final is scheduled for March 21.

The MCA has gone out of its way to get on board its most successful and popular cricketers — Sunil Gavaskar as League Commissioner, Dilip Vengsarkar as Chief Mentor and Sachin Tendulkar as League Ambassador — to enhance the profile of the league. These are the three biggest cricketers from Mumbai spanning four and a half decades (if one takes Gavaskar’s India debut in 1971 into account).

However, in light of this, only the MCA can explain how it has overlooked a most successful and popular captain like Ajit Wadekar to fit into the scheme of things.

With six teams in fray, roles have been given to former cricketers. A notable cricketer among the pool is Sandeep Patil, who in his heydays caught the imagination of cricket-crazy people when he flicked fast bowlers into the Arabian Sea, batting in a competitive match at a Kennedy Sea Face ground. Patil, who lost his mother recently, will guide North Mumbai Panthers, a team led by India middle-order batsman Ajinkya Rahane. India Under-19 captain Prithvi Shaw is another prominent player in the Panthers team.

The league will also see the return of Vinod Kambli. The former India left-hander will mentor Shivaji Park Lions (Mumbai South Central). Amol Muzumdar (Arcs Andheri), Balwinder Singh Sandhu (Panthers), Sameer Dighe and Vinayak Samant (Namo Bandra Blasters), and Lalchand Rajput (Triumph Knights) are some well-known names in the coaching staff.

The idea behind founding the league was to put maidan players through the competitive Twenty20 grind, an objective Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have achieved via their own leagues — the Tamil Nadu Premier League and the Karnataka Premier League.

MCA was able to find place for 119 players in the six teams; these teams spent a little over Rs. two crore as compensation.

Some of the players have already played for Mumbai in BCCI’s Syed Mustaq Ali Trophy, but a substantial number have not and hence they would see the league as a first big stage for them to display their talent. The league and playoff matches (the top four from six will qualify for the playoffs) will be telecast live by Sony-ESPN HD and SD.

While all six teams and their owners would be enthused about the new league, Triumph Knights’ excitement may slightly be tempered as it has lost the services of seamer Dhawal Kulkarni for the entire league. Talking to Sportstar, Kulkarni said: “I am at the NCA in Bangalore for rehab. It’s an ankle issue. But I should start bowling next week.”

For most of the Indian Premier League’s 10 years, the city has got used to cheer the gladiatorial displays of the Mumbai Indians cricketers; but over the next 11 days, maidan cricketers would have the attention riveted on them, especially with the likes of Rohit Sharma and Shardul Thakur busy fulfilling Indian team duties in Sri Lanka.