Mumbai regains title

MUMBAI became the champion team of the country once again, winning seven out of the nine matches it played.

G. VISWANATH

MUMBAI became the champion team of the country once again, winning seven out of the nine matches it played. Doubters were glad to applaud the players after the team's excellent work over a period of five days in the final against Tamil Nadu. Newly elected administrators were all smiles and hugged the players. Written off as no hopers initially, Paras Mhambrey's bunch of boys surprised the pessimists as they notched victories in the preliminary stage of the tournament and crushed old foe Baroda in the semifinals.

The victorious Mumbai team with the Ranji Trophy. — Pic. VIVEK BENDRE-

After facing obstacles of sorts right through the season — it conceded first innings lead to Railways in the Elite Group `A' league match — the Mumbai players came into their own in the final to end the season on a satisfactory note. Now they can walk tall until the resumption of the next season.

For Bombay, the period from the late 1950s to the early 1970s was its heyday. It was not beaten for the Ranji Trophy title for 18 summers. Its cricketers, all magnificent, many of them colossal figures, stepped on the field, thrashed opponents one after another unfailingly and proudly held the glittering Ranji Trophy, that was presented to the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) by the Maharajah Bhupinder Singh of Patiala.

N. S. Shetty in a punishing mood on way to his century in Mumbai's second innings. — Pic. VIVEK BENDRE-

That was the golden era of Bombay's cricket, not beaten in the 1960s at all. Its cricketers amassed runs and bagged wickets aplenty. Initially they were challenged by Holkar and Baroda, where the game prospered because the Maharajahs loved the sport and were willing to spend any amount of money to employ cricketers as ADC's and promote the game. In between the 1930s and late 1950s, there were a handful in the fray wanting to win and be the best. They were Nawanagar, Hyderabad, Maharashtra, Bengal and Madras.

Once they brushed aside Pankaj Roy's Bengal in 1958-59, Bombay's victory march went on for seventeen years, interrupted once by Karnataka. Cricket then penetrated wider and a larger section of the society, the upshot of which was the surfacing of latent talent, was nursed thereafter to earn a livelihood. The lucky ones, like Kapil Dev, became champion performers.

Mumbai — long before Bombay's decline was noticed and became a reality in Indian cricket — has not really been a force to reckon with in recent times. In the 1960s the title came to it as if it was a legacy, before the others through collective skills managed to beat the most famous team in the championship that will complete seven decades in the coming season. Rivals still fear their batsmen and bowlers and their uncompromising attitude towards the game.

Even in a worse scenario, a Mumbai batsman or bowler, would not give up or let his team down. Unquestionably this was one abiding quality that was a witness to Mumbai surviving the just concluded season and winning the title for the 35th time. The moment Wasim Jaffer took control of the catch at silly point and threw it up in celebration (Tamil Nadu's D. Dandapani was still looking at umpire Narendra Menon at the bowler's end), Dilip Vengsarkar, found a way out of the press box at the Wankhede Stadium, to flatter coach Chandrakant Pandit's overall work that put the team back on the rails after being shot out for 98 in the first innings of the season against Hyderabad at the Gymkhana Ground in Secunderabad. Later the team sweated it out in the heat and humidity of Baroda and Mumbai.

A week before the title match against Tamil Nadu, Pandit looked disappointed, failing to make the Managing Committee of the Mumbai Cricket Association by three votes in the election. The fall of the last Tamil Nadu batsman was enough to prompt Pandit to dash and dance in the middle. Pandit was involved in a great deal of work, but after experiencing the exhilarating moments and the joy of victory, Pandit praised Paras Mhambrey's team for producing the results since November last.

Wasim Jaffer came up with two near centuries in the final to boost his run aggregate. — Pics. VIVEK BENDRE-

The story of Mumbai's title triumph has to be attributed to the number of runs contributed by batsmen whose names do not occur first to the captain when he gets down to the business of writing the batting order. Mumbai's top and middle order, usually pull their weight, but faltered on almost all occasions in the first innings. Opener Vinayak Mane began yet another season with the hope of finding the secret to his first first class century and taking his career forward.

Three years ago, Australia's finest practioner of the new ball, Glenn McGrath, bowled at him in a warm up match at the Brabourne Stadium and mentioned about his talent and potential in a syndicated column. Since, Mane has drawn the attention of many, but it seems only the bowlers in the country have succeeded in getting the better of him. The dapper opener, has turned out for Mumbai in 45 innings, but is still not worth a good shout to convince anybody that he has arrived. Finishing the season under 40 would have reminded him that he's to work on his batting and produce more runs to be actually looked at as a potential India opener.

Wasim Jaffer rose to the occasion in the final with two near cen<147,3,1>turies and boosted his aggregate to well over 600 runs. Discarded after the tour to England last summer, Jaffer might have done just enough to keep him in the frame when the selectors meet to pick a representative team. Playing league cricket in England will provide opportunities for Jaffer to fine tune his game. Playing for India `A' against the counties would indeed help him face quality bowlers.

Tamil Nadu's S. Ramesh during his knock of 85 in the first innings.— Pics. VIVEK BENDRE-

Mane's failure and Jaffer being not very consistent placed heavy demands on the lower order batsmen in Vinayak Samant, Ramesh Powar and Sairaj Bahutule. These three made close to one thousand runs, a crucial factor that lifted Mumbai out of distress in the league stage. Mumbai's two other batsmen — Nishit Shetty (2 x 100s) and Bhavin Thakkar — were given important positions.

Mumbai's main strike bowlers were seamer Avishkar Salvi and Bahutule. Together they took over 70 wickets, but it was easily the high quality bowling by Ajit Agarkar (19 wickets in three matches) that Mumbai captain Mhambrey found more than handy against Delhi, Baroda and Tamil Nadu. Used sparingly, except on a couple of occasions, Agarkar turned out to be the linchpin in the Mumbai attack and was responsible for Baroda's rout in the semifinal and keeping the lead down to 11 runs against Tamil Nadu.

The Ranji Trophy was annexed by a team that took complete control of the final after two batsmen lashed out at the Tamil Nadu bowling. Creditable victories in the league stage and in the semifinal against Delhi justfied Tamil Nadu's entry into the final. The Southern team was in form and in the final, Tamil Nadu appeared to be dictating the course of the match. But it faltered in every step it took from the third day. First Agarkar and thereafter Jaffer and Shetty rattled it.

Tamil Nadu's Hemang Badani acknowledges his century in the second innings. He made a brave attempt but his patience wore thin. — Pic. VIVEK BENDRE-

Tamil Nadu's batting and bowling departments had functioned like a well oiled machine before the team arrived in Mumbai where its memory was refreshed by Sachin Tendulkar's near solo effort that devastated it three years ago. This time around, Tendulkar was not there. Moreover, its confidence had been boosted by the match-winning qualities seamer Lakshmipathy Balaji had exhibited. He was chiefly responsible for Tamil Nadu denting the reputation of big names and crossing a big hurdle in Delhi. Balaji, bowled sensational spells to collect 44 wickets before the final, but could not repeat it for one last time in the season.

If winning matches according to Steve Waugh is all about making one's own luck and playing smart cricket, Tamil Nadu's approach after the first session on the third day was a far cry from what the Australian captain meant it to be. By opting to safeguard the lead of 11 runs, Tamil Nadu virtually offered the title on a platter to Mumbai. Hemang Badani (109) was the lone hand who made a brave attempt to handle events the way his team wanted to, but even his patience wore thin after cutting and carving the Mumbai attack.

Tamil Nadu largely depended on a set of batsmen who have been capped by India and are in contention again. Foremost was Sridharan Sriram who turned out with heavyweight displays. Opener Sadagopan Ramesh had an indifferent season with not a single three-figure knock to make him a formidable batsman he was two years ago. The left-hander has cut out the frills and looks more firm. The purpose behind the change in approach might help him in the long run as far as finding his way back into the Indian team, but in the bargain he is unlikely to be as dominant as he was when he made his entry into the national team.

Badani, Sriram, S. Sharath and captain S. Suresh made centuries in the championship. Batting responsibilities were shared, but in the bowling front it was Balaji all alone with the others chipping in at crucial times. Mediumpacer M. R. Shrinivas took 20 odd wickets. For a State which has produced some fine spinners, the lack of a quality spinner in its ranks made the Tamil Nadu attack incomplete and lopsided.

Sairaj Bahutule traps S. Sriram leg before. Bahutule took five wickets for 70 in the second innings. — Pic. VIVEK BENDRE-

Baroda and Delhi were the two teams that advanced to the knock-out. Baroda finished second behind Tamil Nadu in Elite Group `B' and Delhi, second behind Mumbai in Group `A'. Baroda proved it has been consistent regaining the trophy after 43 years in 2001 and reaching the final last year. This year it found Agarkar too hot to handle and beaten on the third day, whereas Delhi staged a remarkable comeback to make the semifinal at the Kotla a little more interesting.

The India `A' team's tour to the West Indies to take part in the Carib Beer Cup delayed the knock-out by 80 days. The players picked for the Duleep Trophy were not affected by the long gap. The changed format saw Mumbai clubbed with Delhi, Andhra, Hyderabad, Rajasthan, Bengal, Railways and Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu with Baroda, Punjab, Assam, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Orissa. Twentythree matches produced results. Last year's winner Railways, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Orissa did not win a match.

Many teams took the bold step of picking under-19 players. Two of them impressed. One of them was a batsman who has already built a reputation. According to one national selector, Hyderabad's Ambati Rayudu was unlucky to miss the World Cup in South Africa. Rayudu had a miserable start, dismissed for zero in both the innings against Mumbai. But soon he made the headlines scoring 210 and 159 not out against Andhra. The 17-year-old came into prominence last summer following his incredible feat against England under-19 at Taunton. Rayudu figures among the leading batsmen of the season.

Mumbai captain Paras Mhambrey (left) with his main strike bowler Avishkar Salvi. Salvi and Bahutule together took 70 wickets in the season. — Pic V. GANESAN-

Another junior who impressed was left-hander Rakesh Solanki. Baroda pulled him out of the India under-19 team that toured Nepal because it felt that he would be more useful to Baroda in the Ranji semifinal. But Chairman of the Talent Resource Development Wing, Dilip Vengsarkar was not impressed by the move. "You don't get a chance to play for India all the time. Representing India is a bigger achievement,'' he said.

A team that suffered on account of the introduction of the new format was Karnataka. Relegated to the Plate Group because of its performances in 2001-2002, Karnataka had to be satisfied playing against Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Maharashtra, Jammu & Kashmir and Bihar before it outplayed Kerala to win the Plate Group final.

Karnataka's agenda was to get promoted to the Elite Group and as a result its players stayed focused. J. Arunkumar, Deepak Chougule, Thilak Naidu and Rowland Barrington scored runs and left-arm spinner Sunil Joshi (47 wickets) and Doda Ganesh (31 wickets) played the roles expected of them. Naidu held 25 catches and effected four stumpings.

Delhi's Virender Sehwag is bowled by L. Balaji for 99 in the semi-final. This was his fifth wicket in the innings. Balaji bowled sensational spells to bag 47 wickets in the championship. — Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN-

Kerala benefited by engaging the services of Sujith Somasunder (of Karnataka) and Hemanth Kumar (of Tamil Nadu). Somasunder was the top scorer with 612 followed by Hemanth Kumar, 509. The other batsmen who contributed were Srikumar Nair (421), A. Kudva (397) and S. Oasis (316). Legspinner Ananthapadmanabhan took 38 wickets. But in the final, Kerala was outplayed. It lost by an innings and 11 runs, Joshi doing the damage taking 12 wickets. The veteran spinner topped the bowling averages with 47 wickets.

Only a few matches in both the `Elite' and `Plate' groups generated interest. The captains of all the teams will be asked to present their views on the changed format. Many of the former players have welcomed the new format.

The scores: Final:

Mumbai: 1st innings: V. R. Mane c Raju b Gokulakrishnan 13, W. Jaffer c Ramesh b Shrinivas 83, N. S. Shetty c Raju b Gokulakrishnan 21, A. A. Muzumdar c Sriram b Suresh 30, B. J. Thakkar lbw b Shrinivas 0, S. V. Bahutule c Raju b Suresh 34, A. B. Agarkar c Raju b Suresh 26, P. L. Mhambrey c Ramesh b Sriram 2, R. R. Powar c Suresh b Balaji 18, V. R. Samant (not out) 17, A. M. Salvi c Raju b Balaji 0. Extras (lb-7, nb-9) 16. Total (in 91 overs) 260.

Fall of wickets: 1-37, 2-100, 3-142 , 4-142, 5-160, 6-213, 7-222, 8-229, 9-250.

Tamil Nadu bowling: Balaji 18-3-37-2, Shrinivas 14-4-44-2, Gokulakrishnan 19-3-46-2, Suresh 18-2-51-3, Dhandapani 12-3-44-0, Sriram 10-1-31-1.

Tamil Nadu: 1st innings: S. Suresh c Samant b Agarkar 3, S. Ramesh c Muzumdar b Bahutule 85, S. Sriram c Samant b Agarkar 26, S. Badrinath c Mane b Bahutule 42, H. K. Badani lbw b Agarkar 56, S. Sharath c Jaffer b Agarkar 15, M. R. Shrinivas c Samant b Mhambrey 0, J. Gokulakrishnan lbw b Bahutule 15, P. Raju c Samant b Salvi 5, L. Balaji b Mhambrey 8, D. Dhandapani (not out) 0. Extras (b-3, lb-6, nb-7) 16. Total (in 115.3 overs) 271.

Fall of wickets: 1-4, 2-72, 3-131, 4-202, 5-228, 6-239, 7-239 , 8-251, 9-271.

Mumbai bowling: Agarkar 29-8-57-4, Salvi 25-9-50-1, Mhambrey 16.3-1-36-2, Powar 24-5-60-0, Bahutule 21-4-59-3.

Mumbai: 2nd innings: V. R. Mane lbw b Balaji 2, W. Jaffer lbw b Shrinivas 98, N. S. Shetty c Suresh b Shrinivas 100, Samant c Badrinath b Shrinivas 6, A. A. Muzumdar c Raju b Suresh 7, B. J. Thakkar (retired hurt) 66, S. V. Bahutule (run out) 27, A. B. Agarkar c Balaji b Sriram 4, R. R. Powar (not out) 53, P. L. Mhambrey (not out) 0. Extras (b-5, lb-1, w-2, nb-6) 24. Total ( for seven wkts decl. In 105 overs) 387.

Fall of wickets: 1-22, 2-210, 3-217, 4-228, 5-239, 6-287, 7-298.

Tamil Nadu bowling: Balaji 27-3-69-1, Shrinivas 21-5-73-3, Gokulakrishnan 17-3-55-0, Suresh 14-5-48-1, Sriram 13-0-60-1, Dhandapani 10-1-55-0, Badani 3-0-11-0.

Tamil Nadu: 2nd innings: S. Suresh b Mhambrey 44, S. Ramesh c Jaffer b Agarkar 6, S. Sriram lbw b Bahutule 5, S. Badrinath c Mane b Powar 20, H. K. Badani c Shetty b Bahutule 109, S. Sharath lbw b Bahutule 9, M. R. Shrinivas lbw b Salvi 4, J. Gokulakrishnan c Shetty b Powar 5, P. Raju lbw b Bahutule 0, L. Balaji (not out) 3, D.Dhandapani c Mane b Bahutule 0. Extras (b-8, lb-13, nb-9) 30. Total (in 100.4 overs) 235.

Fall of wickets : 1-27, 2-62, 3-62, 4-121, 5-151, 6-199, 7-214, 8-225, 9-235.

Mumbai bowling: Agarkar 19-6- 44-1, Salvi 13-3-23-1, Bahutule 30.4-4-70-5, Mhambrey 14-5-20-1, Powar 24-4-57-2.