Looking back: Day-night Ranji final

"I thought the experiment worked brilliantly. And I am still surprised after 20 years we still haven’t tried that. For me, it was a big success on all counts," says the author, as he recollects the first and the only day-night Ranji Trophy final played between Mumbai and Delhi in Gwalior in 1996-97.

Former cricketer Amol Muzumdar.

Mumbai skipper Sanjay Manjrekar with the Ranji Trophy after defeating Delhi in the final, which was played under lights, on the first innings lead in April 1997.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

The victorious Mumbai team with the Ranji Trophy in April 1997.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

It’s been 20 years, so I don’t recall exactly when we got to know the Ranji final (between Mumbai and Delhi, April 5-9, 1997) would be played under lights. I think we got to know only after we made it to the final, defeating Madhya Pradesh in the semifinals in Indore.

Those days, there used to be a gap of almost a week between the knockout games.

However, I am not sure how many days we had in between the semifinal in Indore and the final in Gwalior, but once we got to know that the final would be played under lights, we made the most of whatever time we had at our disposal to train at the Wankhede Stadium (in Mumbai) before leaving for Gwalior. We were not prepared since beginning, or we did not know in advance that we would be playing under lights, so it was a sort of an impromptu thing, I guess.

To be honest, playing under lights did not really weigh on most of our minds. We were too engrossed in our objective, to win the Ranji Trophy. I had no time to think whether I like this or not.

Of course, it was the final, and that too, a Mumbai-Delhi encounter. I had heard epic tales of Bombay versus Delhi matches for so many years and finally, I was going to feature in it!

Whatever little time we had, we spent it on our preparation for the final. At the Wankhede Stadium, we tried to change the cycle in the nets. We started our training in fading light, just before 7 p.m., and then carried on well into the night. It wasn’t really a common occurrence those days, as opposed to nowadays when the players are so used to training and playing under lights. The training regimen was a bit different, but the bigger picture of being in the final against Delhi took over. We told ourselves, ‘forget about the ball; forget about the occasion, we just have to win’.

Once we were on the field on Day 1, it was a given that it would be a flat deck. The conditions were also different. The ball was changed after every 40 overs, so it was way too different. And we were not used to playing five successive days of day-night cricket. Batting in the afternoon on a flat deck, then batting in the fading light, and then setting yourself up under lights when the ball moves a little bit, it was a totally different experience. But I guess we handled it.

I think getting the 100th run was the most memorable moment for me during my knock. I had scored a hundred in the semifinals, so I was in top form. When I scored a hundred again in the final, as I said in my first match against Delhi, it was a very special moment. I remember how I got there as well. It was off (left-arm spinner) Rahul Sanghvi; I hit it towards mid-on and took off for a single. Waving to my father, uncle and two of my friends, who had travelled all the way from Mumbai to Gwalior for the final. I assumed that they were the only four supporters of Mumbai in the stands.

As for the match, we engineered the collapse of Delhi on the final day to win the Ranji Trophy yet again, which was most memorable. (Delhi, which was 365 for two at the end of the fourth day, lost eight wickets for 194 runs on the final day to fall 71 runs short of Mumbai’s total in the first innings. Mumbai, thus, won the final on first innings lead.)

The match was a big hit. That was Mumbai-Delhi rivalry at its best; I will never forget that. There were some brilliant performances. Mumbai’s Jatin (Paranjpe) scored a century. Ajay Sharma got a big hundred for Delhi. So did Ashu Dani. Raman Lamba was there. The intense atmosphere, and to deal with that pressure and eventually come on top, was good fun.

There were a few challenges. We had to deal with a lot of dew. The insects too — they were flying all around on all days. They did spray some insecticide, but it didn’t work. I remember an insect flew into Vinod Kambli’s ear while fielding and he had to rush to the dressing room. When we went back to the dressing room after the day’s play, Kambli showed the insect to us. He had kept it in a glass bottle to show it to us.

The biggest challenge for me was coping with the body clock. To play five consecutive days of day-night cricket was a huge change. A day-night game takes a lot out of you. And unlike a one-day or a T20 game, where you can sleep the next day because you are tired, here we had to brace ourselves up and focus on the match every single day. That was a huge task. Our sleep patterns and eating patterns changed. I remember, on the fourth night, Sanjay (Mumbai captain Sanjay Manjrekar) called for a team meeting at the end of the day’s play; it was very late. It was well past midnight when we all met and I am sure that was the only team meeting I had attended that late.

I thought the experiment worked brilliantly. And I am still surprised after 20 years we still haven’t tried that.

For me, it was a big success on all counts. The cricket was of the highest quality, the spectators flocked to the stadium and the game was telecast live. The only problem was the dew factor, but that can be managed. I thought it was a success.

(As told to Amol Karhadkar)