‘Cricket is a way of life in Mumbai’

Skipper Wasim Jaffer with the Ranji Trophy. For the Mumbai players, the pride of playing for the team has remained undiminished. The side continues to conquer.-K. RAMESH BABU

Like the champion sides from Mumbai in the past, the current squad led by Wasim Jaffer too has an immense sense of bonding, a lot of depth and the desire to excel. No wonder the team won its 38th Ranji title in Hyderabad recently. By S. Dinakar.

Sunil Gavaskar recalled an interesting story the other day. It was about how the young cricketers of Bombay would, from the upper berths, listen to words of wisdom of the masters during the long train journeys of the Ranji Trophy team. Much of the talk in the lower berths, occupied by the seniors, would revolve around the game’s nuances, strategy, successes and failures.

Even as the accomplished players discussed cricket over a game of cards, much knowledge would be passed on to the eager aspirants. Those times are behind us now. The teams, largely, fly to their destinations these days. The money in domestic cricket has increased vastly too. And Bombay has become Mumbai. However, certain things don’t change. Mumbai continues to win Ranji Trophy.

The other afternoon in Hyderabad, Wasim Jaffer’s men nailed Mumbai’s 38th Ranji title. Importantly, the pride of playing for Mumbai has remained undiminished. The side continues to conquer.

The Ranji Trophy this season had the biggest stars parading their skills during the climactic stages. Sachin Tendulkar turned out for Mumbai, so did Zaheer Khan. Coach Pravin Amre highlighted the significance of Tendulkar, the legend, playing for Mumbai. He spoke about the younger crop benefiting from interacting with the maestro. And Zaheer, from his position at mid-off, was often seen walking up to the young Dhaval Kulkarni between deliveries and guiding the emerging paceman.

Even as the seniors pull their weight in more ways than one, Mumbai continues to churn out bright young cricketers. Kulkarni harried and consumed several batsmen with his movement; he could do with a yard or two of pace though. The talented Rohit Sharma went back to the basics to script two match-winning hundreds against Uttar Pradesh’s well-rounded attack in the final. Under pressure, he thrived. Rohit’s century in the first innings — after the UP pacemen had made major inroads in the first session of the match — orchestrated a remarkable Mumbai recovery. His century in the second innings batted UP out of the match.

A path-breaking India captain, Ajit Wadekar, comprehends much about Mumbai and its cricketing culture. He was also a famous Bombay skipper. “You know, we start by playing for the club in the Kanga League. You develop loyalty to the club. You bat on different types of wickets. You do not get batting tracks all the time. There are occasions when you bat on sticky wickets,” reveals Wadekar.

Then he says something significant. “All this makes our cricketers ‘khaduus’ (meaning hard to break).”

They bond so well... the Mumbai players celebrate their victory in the Ranji Trophy final in Hyderabad.-K. RAMESH BABU

‘Khaduus’ is a quality that underlines Mumbai’s cricketing culture. Wadekar himself was ‘khaduus’ when he walked in at No. 8 against Saurashtra with Bombay reeling at 100-something for six. The elegant left-hander notched up a hundred. That effort, really, was the beginning of his cricketing journey.

Wadekar adds: “We learn to win from an early age. In Mumbai there are officially around 320 clubs and 110 tournaments. Then we have ‘galli’ cricket where the young cricketers pool in the money. Cricket is a way of life.”

The former India captain also throws light on the immense sense of bonding and the intense competition in the Mumbai team. “We used to have six or seven Indian players in the Bombay team. And there was this great desire to excel in front of your peers. There was a lot of depth in the ranks and we knew that if we missed a single game for Bombay our careers could be on the line. Money wasn’t there, but it did not matter. We enjoyed our cricket. There was this great spirit within the side. Even today, you can see the bonding in the Mumbai team. Cricketers help each other out.”

In the triumphant campaign of 2008-09, the seniors in the Mumbai camp guided the younger bunch. Jaffer made a mountain of runs in an elegant fashion. He also inspired someone like No. 3 Ajinkhya Rahane to pile up big scores. The young Rahane has a few issues to sort out in his initial movement, but he times the ball sweetly and is hungry for runs.

Mumbai dished out a positive brand of cricket — aggressive field placements were backed by well-directed bowling. The team played smart cricket, set the batsmen up. The team executed its plans neatly. Abhishek Nayar, who revived Mumbai in the first innings with Rohit in the final, has interesting possibilities. He is a punishing left-hander and a handy seam bowler; more importantly, he seems to relish the sniff of a combat.

Along the campaign trail, cricketers of varying kinds put their hands up for Mumbai. Vinayak Samant, in his mid-30s, picked a perfect occasion to score his first Ranji hundred — in the final. The ploy to send the wicketkeeper-batsman as an opener worked. Ramesh Powar prised out batsmen with flight, dip and spin. He remains a grossly under-rated off-spinner.

The seniors in the team displayed heart and commitment. Tendulkar braved fever to carve a stroke-filled century in the semifinal against Saurashtra in Chennai. Ajit Agarkar generated fiery pace and extracted disconcerting lift. Zaheer operated with rhythm and control for a title-winning seven-wicket innings haul in the Ranji final.

Like most champion sides, Mumbai was ruthless in the composition of its XI. Amol Muzumdar may have been only a handful of runs behind Amarjit Kaypee’s record as the highest run-getter in Ranji history, but the senior batsman’s lack of form saw him being omitted for the final. Sahil Kukreja may have scored a double hundred against Delhi earlier in the season but the compulsion of finding the right balance in the XI ruled him out of the side in the climactic stages.

There are several aspects to Mumbai’s cricket. Cricketers from other states aver that the players from Mumbai attempt to unsettle opposition through sledging. Indeed, Mumbai is the Australia — in its pomp — of Indian domestic cricket.