Mumbai turns 40!

The triumphant Mumbai team.-PICS. PTI

It was a first time win as Mumbai captain for Ajit Agarkar. “I have won it before, but to win as captain makes it very, very special. Not having reached the final for a couple of years, the guys were very keen to do well. Winning the Ranji Trophy is not easy as other teams have improved so much,’’ he said. G. Viswanath analyses.

Mumbai proved its supremacy once again in the Ranji Trophy. Curator Sudhir Naik prepared a sporting wicket at the Wankhede Stadium and the home team outplayed Saurashtra in well under three days. Skipper Ajit Agarkar marshalled his resources well, especially a bowler of his ilk in seamer Dhaval Kulkarni and crushed the opponent by an innings and 125 runs. It was Mumbai’s 40th title and the team celebrated the victory in fizzy style with Sachin Tendulkar and the rest uncorking the sparkling champagne in the first floor dressing room.

Seniors like Tendulkar, Wasim Jaffer, Agarkar, Kulkarni and Abhishek Nayar have tasted a title win before, but it was a first for Kaustubh Pawar, Aditya Tare, Shardul Thakur, Vishal Dabholkar, Hiken Shah and Ankeet Chavan.

It was also a moment to cherish for Zaheer Khan, who had brought about the biggest turnaround for the team with a five for 79 in the second innings of the penultimate league match against Madhya Pradesh at Indore and Rohit Sharma who scored heavily in the league matches. Mention should also be made of Ajinkya Rahane. The reserves in the squad were Suryakumar Yadav, Javed Khan, Nikhil Patil (jr) and Sushant Marathe. In all 22 players represented the team this season.

There were many stand out performances. Leading the long list was Aditya Tare, the wicket-keeper-batsman. Recovering from an ankle injury, Tare played in all 11 matches (8 in the league and 3 in the knock- out) and scored 842 runs at 49.52 with two centuries and three half-centuries. But he achieved more fame for his work behind the stumps, taking 39 catches and effecting two stumpings to share the national record with Punjab’s Uday Kaul.

Mumbai appears to have found a replacement for Vinayak Samant who served the team with distinction. Tare could not control his emotions. “It’s unbelievable; it is like a dream-come-true. You play your first full season and you become the champion. I only dreamt about it. Whenever I used to think about playing for Mumbai as a wicketkeeper-batsman, I thought of scoring runs and doing well with the gloves. That’s what I dreamt about. I am really glad. I would like to give credit to the bowlers. They produced the edges. A lot of credit to coach Sulakshan Kulkarni; he is a specialist wicketkeeper and we practised a lot. I would also like to mention Kiran More. I worked with him for two seasons with Mumbai Indians. He told me I should be a wicketkeeper for Mumbai and then MI.’’

Kulkarni finally became the pick of the bowlers. He bowled his heart out in the tricky semi-final against Services at Palam Ground, New Delhi. He picked up his first five-wicket haul of the season there and when given the conditions he delivered the goods in the final.

Dhaval Kulkarni... indisive seam bowling in the final.-

Saurashtra’s veteran batsman Shitanshu Kotak wondered why Kulkarni has not received more opportunities at the national level and skipper Agarkar too said his new ball partner deserves a look in. Kulkarni now has taken 165 wickets in 51 first class matches and perhaps with another impressive showing in the Irani Cup match and the warm-up against Australia, he may see lady luck smiling on him.

It has also been a splendid year for the likes of Rohit Sharma (712 runs), Nayar (966), Jaffer (835), Hiken Shah (773), Tendulkar (332 in 4 matches) and Kaustubh Pawar (604). The Mumbai batsmen scored 20 centuries and 27 half centuries. Kulkarni finished with 30 wickets and the left-arm spinner Ankeet Chavan 33. The other successful bowlers were Nayyar (19), Agarkar (17), Javed Khan (10) and Zaheer Khan (9). Mumbai’s fielding standards had dropped in the league phase; but nothing went down in the cordon in the final.

Mumbai (then Bombay) first won the Ranji Trophy in the inaugural year in 1934-35 defeating Northern India and retained the title the next season defeating Madras. Vijay Merchant was in the first team with other famous names. Nawanagar, Hyderabad, Bengal, Maharashtra, Baroda, Western India, Holkar and Madras competed for the title before Bombay dominated the scene for 15 years from 1958-59 to 1972-73. There have been interesting contests since with Karnataka, Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Bengal, Railways and Baroda making a strong presence which has turned out to be good for Indian cricket.

Tendulkar won his fifth Ranji title and said: “We have won the title for the 40th time! Mumbai has again showed that it is a champion side. We have a good team with a nice blend of youngsters and senior players. There were moments when the going was tough, but that was when the team stuck together and performed brilliantly. I feel very happy, especially for Ajit Agarkar who had a rough season last year. It was really difficult for him. But this season, he led from the front. He performed when it mattered.

“The team and the support staff backed him right through the season. It is a wonderful moment for Mumbai cricket, not just for the players, but also for the administrative side. It’s been a team effort and I take this opportunity to congratulate every one.”

It was a first time win as captain for Agarkar. “I have won it before, but to win as captain makes it very, very special. Not having reached the final for a couple of years, the guys were very keen to do well. Winning the Ranji Trophy is not easy as other teams have improved so much,’’ he said.

Mumbai will receive Rs. 2-crore for the win from the BCCI and the MCA announced an additional Rs. 3-crore for the team.