Evening of cricket nostalgia, and a lesson for Shaw
The staidness of official cricket functions — compared to the razzmatazz associated with the game otherwise in India — is a conundrummumbai Updated: Nov 10, 2017 00:18 IST
Walking into the ground at the Mumbai Cricket Association’s clubhouse at Bandra-Kurla complex on Wednesday night, I had some reservations about whether the commemorative function for Mumbai’s 500th Ranji Trophy match would live up to its billing.
The setting was lovely. There was a nip in the air, hinting that a change of season was just days away, the sky was clear and starry (unlike the sooty smog I had experienced in Delhi the previous day) and the liveried support staff courteous.
My compunction, however, was whether the event would be of the scale that the occasion merited. The 500th match was a major milestone, but the seating arrangements suggested that the size of the audience would be modest.
As it transpired, this was indeed the case. A pity, because with a slightly broader canvas the celebrations — with star players in attendance — could have involved cricket lovers too apart from administrators, aficionados and the media.
The staidness of official cricket functions — compared to the razzmatazz associated with the game otherwise in India — is a conundrum. Money is surely not a concern. Perhaps some imagination — or lack of it — is.
Inevitably, there was political flavour to the evening. MCA’s current president Ashish Shelar is also head of the BJP in the city. The BJP’s inroads into Mumbai cricket are still restricted. Shelar obviously hopes to widen and strengthen them.
The more compelling presence was that of Sharad Pawar, Shelar’s predecessor as MCA president. The NCP chief’s recent political foxtrot has had the Congress, Shiv Sena and BJP (I daresay his own party too!) guessing his next move.
But even in cricket politics, Pawar’s future is laced with intrigue. Though he quit as MCA president last December (when Shelar succeeded him) in consonance with the Justice Lodha recommendations, his passion for cricket is as intense as it is for national politics.
If the BCCI’s fight against the implementation of the age bar on officials succeeds, there might be little to stop Pawar from being in the forefront of administration again methinks.
But, these were tertiary issues to Wednesday’s function. The focus was on Mumbai cricket and as the program evolved, it turned into a treat for the audience when several star players of different generations shared their experiences.
Stories — especially about sports and sportspersons — have a flavour entirely their own when they are told in person rather than read in books. By the time the event ended, the evening had turned warm and mellow and the air was thick with riveting nostalgia.
Of the many players who spoke, Sachin Tendulkar was perhaps the most evocative and engaging. That could be because my mind went back hurtling in time almost 30 years when he spoke mainly in monosyllables.
Today, he speaks with the aplomb of a maestro, lacing anecdotes with droll humour to make them even more telling. Sunil Gavaskar is a master raconteur as is well known. Tendulkar now stands alongside him.
Talking of Gavaskar, his absence was a let down. Among the greatest exemplars of Mumbai cricket, he would have added heft and lustre to the evening. Sandeep Patil and Ravi Shastri, two other former captains, were also missing.
There will always be some with commitments that can’t be skipped. But I wonder whether more robust planning — since the milestone match was known in advance — could not have made the evening more stellar and complete.
Nevertheless, there were terrific takeaways for the current Mumbai Ranji players from the stories related by former stars — on stage and informally — about the rich tradition and unrelenting attitude of Mumbai cricket.
The latter aspect is of crucial importance now. On Thursday, the first day of the 500th match, Mumbai were bowled out for a paltry 171 by underdogs Baroda and face the possibility of a premature exit from this year’s tournament.
The big disappointment in the first innings collapse was young sensation Prithvi Shaw. Having flayed bowlers everywhere this season, on his home ground, on his 18th birthday, he was bowled for a duck!
Shaw may have heard about cricket being a great leveller without quite realising its implications. Now he knows it first hand. That’s a lesson for perpetuity.
Hopefully, there will be a second innings for him — and Mumbai — to make amends.