There’s no such thing as second best. Not for us. Not for Mumbai. Not in the Ranji Trophy. There’s no such phrase as, ‘we hope to stay in the Elite Group’ or, ‘we hope we can make it to the final’. We don’t say that kind of thing. Not one of us. We don’t think that way either. We play to win. It’s as simple as that, our Mumbai cricket philosophy, and it’s always been that way. We’ve shown that 39 times now.
When I got into the squad, in 1996-97, I was playing u-19 cricket. That season, Ajit Agarkar, Rajesh Pawar, Amit Pagnis and I, we all got in at various times. We knew that you would get only a couple of chances, especially as batsmen.
There were too many people waiting in the wings and every guy there would fight you viciously for the few spots up for grabs. You had to make those chances count.
After all, Mumbai hadn’t won the Ranji Trophy 15 consecutive times because they let in just anyone! Still, even getting into the list of 38-40 Ranji probables, seeing your name on a list that had Sachin Tendulkar as captain, was a never-to-be forgotten moment. It was the first of many.
Growing up, as u-15, u-17, u-19 players, we would constantly hear about the legacy that we, one day, would be the inheritors of, about the responsibility we had to Mumbai. Cricket, to all of us, was (and is) a way of life, Mumbai cricket was what gave that life a heart, a soul, everything. It’s difficult to describe the spirit of Mumbai cricket to non-Mumbaikars.
It just is. It’s there in the names that came before us —the Wadekars, Gavaskars, Shivalkars and Vengsarkars, the Sardesais, Solkars, Naiks and Shastris, in Manjrekar, Tendulkar and Kambli. It’s there in the people who came before them. It’s a feeling of absolute sureness, a sense of belonging, of a brotherhood bound by a common purpose, a shared history and a common love.
Off the field, we might have our differences, on it we back each other up, take pride in each others’ performances and make sure we do anything we can, any way, to come out on top.
This season though, I’ll admit we were a bit jittery. We’d breathed easier after making it to the semis but up ahead were Delhi, our archrivals. They were coming in with a lot of confidence after beating Tamil Nadu. They had Ishant Sharma back, while we were missing Rohit Sharma and Dhawal Kulkarni, while Zaheer and Sachin in any case were not around.
When we sat for the team meeting, you could probably have cut through the tension. Each of us was on an edge; it wasn’t just about winning at that point, it was about beating Delhi too. That’s what the Mumbai-Delhi rivalry is all about. Once we were past that though, it was a bit anti-climatic, but the final turned out to be a close thing!
Here, I’d like to thank my teammates for hanging in there and helping me hang in there. I remember being a bit nervous when Manish Pandey was going strong and even though I said nothing, Ajinkya Rahane and Vinayak Samant both came up and chatted and told me it would be fine. When we went into the huddle to pep each other up, Ramesh Powar, Ajit Agarkar, Abhishek Nayar, even the guys carrying the water, they all had something to say. And it was the same thing. ‘One wicket, one wicket, one wicket…’
Well, with a bit of luck, we got that wicket, and then another and another. And we were on our way again, on course to bring the Trophy home. Where it belongs.