Many years ago a cricket romantic remarked: “If Indian cricket had a human form, the backbone would certainly be from Mumbai.” He was referring to the approach that best represents a cricketer from Mumbai; being resilient and — to use a local term — khadoos.
If one has to analyse where this never-say-die attitude comes from, the answer lies in two tournaments that were started at the turn of the 20th century — the Harris and Giles Shields. These two tournaments have produced (among others) cricketers like Vijay Merchant, Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar who are lambi race ke ghode.
Giles and Harris Shields are the initiation rituals that introduce a schoolboy to the longer format of the game and prep him for the Ranji, Duleep and Irani trophies with the ultimate aim of playing Test cricket.
They are the platforms that instill the khadoos approach in a Mumbai cricketer and form the first steps of the ‘Mumbai school of cricket.’
Today, performances of youngsters like Sarfaraz Khan, Armaan Jaffer and Prithvi Shaw in the Giles and Harris are being watched closely by selectors and local cricket aficionados alike just the way they watched Gavaskar, Ashok Mankad, Solkar, Vengsarkar, Sandeep Patil and Tendulkar.
In the past, however, the Giles and Harris shields were the only tournaments that helped a young cricketer qualify for age-group tournaments. Today, the Shatkar and Sportstar Trophies are the tournaments that Mumbai’s selectors watch to decide who they will pick to play in various national limited-overs tournaments.
With the advent of new tournaments, most in the limited overs format, and the rise of various academies, which also participate in many tournaments, young cricketers don’t realise the importance of the Giles and Harris shields, as we did in the past.
Many coaches believe that the Elite division matches should be played in the knock-out format, as they were in the past, since fewer teams have all-round talent and teams that attract the better cricketers thrash those that have one or two good players.
No matter how many tournaments are played in the city, most of them cater to the limited overs version. Only the Giles and Harris remain the two tournaments that prepare a cricketer for the longer format of the game.
Hemant Kenkre is the former skipper of the Cricket Club of India and played for St Xavier’s High School from 1971 to’74.