One didn’t detect too much worry on the faces of Mumbai’s cricketers at the felicitation of the Ranji Trophy winning team on the East Lawns of the Cricket Club of India on Wednesday night.
The mood was not exultant, but certainly buoyant as one would expect of a team that commanded a massive lead in the ongoing Irani Trophy and had had a winning streak right through the domestic season.
Moderating a discussion on the 1962 Sino-India conflict at IIT-Powai that went on longer than expected, I thought I had blown the opportunity to be part of this important cricket function. “Thursday is the last day of the Irani Trophy and players will wind up early,” former Mumbai captain Dilip Vengsarkar had warned a few days earlier and here I was running behind time.
Interest in political history, I must confess, remains a tad lower than my passion for cricket, and I was getting panicky as the minutes ticked away. Thankfully, the Eastern Express freeway was godsend.
When I reached the CCI, the official felicitations were over. There were clusters of people in groups around former stalwarts Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar, Milind Rege and Karsan Ghavri, among others.
I would imagine apart from the impending T20 World Championship, the superb performance of Mumbai this season was the subject of discussion. Perhaps more pertinently, what the outcome of the Irani Trophy would be.
As it happened, Mumbai, winners of the Ranji and CK Nayudu (under-23) trophies this season, were humbled on Thursday by a spirited Rest of India side that refused to say die. The ambition of making it a “golden” season had been unfortunately undermined.
Set to score a whopping 482 in the fourth innings – and 380 on the final day – the Rest reached home in epic style with a lot to spare.
Mumbai, having taken a massive 297-run lead in the first innings, were left to rue some careless batting in the second innings, when they were bowled out for 182. Perhaps an important lesson has been learnt in the process.
There are several clichés attached to cricket. The most common one defines it as a “funny” game. Several also call it a “cruel” one.
There are enough reasons and instances why both are true. However the most telling attribute in my opinion is that cricket is the “great leveler”.
But one can’t be harsh on the Mumbai team, which has otherwise played splendidly. Bereft of star power, what with Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma on India duty, and with Wasim Jaffer and Sarfraz Khan opting for other pastures, Mumbai looked a beleaguered side when the season began.
To win the Ranji Trophy, despite the handicaps, shows fine ambition. I was among those who thought Mumbai would be stragglers, but the players rose to the occasion splendidly.
Some of them – certainly Shreyas Iyer and Shardul Thakur – are knocking hard on the doors of the selectors. Some others like young Jay Bista have burst on to the scene with blazing talent.
Bista got sagacious advice from Gavaskar on Wednesday, with so many batsmen making centuries, the best way to catch the attention of the selectors is to make a double century!
In my opinion, Mumbai’s success in both Ranji and CK Nayudu trophies is testimony that cricket in the city is thriving, not comatose as so many believe.
This was Mumbai’s 41st title in the 82 years since the tournament began, which is a whopping 50 win percentage that finds no parallel in domestic cricket anywhere in the world.
Significantly, what this season established is that cricket is very much part of this city’s DNA. But what this also entails is for the administration to be robust and focused and players committed
The vagabond ways of Delhi and Hyderabad -- two strong cricket sides not long ago -- tell us how easily and quickly things can go haywire.
The season is through and important titles won. But not time to rest on laurels. Mumbai cricket must take fresh guard to keep the fabulous legacy alive next season.