The win that changed UP’s cricket scene
Uttar Pradesh’s loss to domestic giants Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy semi-final by an innings and 233 runs at the Wankhede Stadium in 1994-95 in less than three days was not unexpected.
While it may have been business as usual for most of the players in the Rahul Sapru-led Uttar Pradesh team, a few, including Gyanendra Pandey, were distraught. The young brigade in the side then decided to avenge the humiliation in future.
With the passage of time, many people forgot that loss, but not the young Pandey and his pacers Ashish Winston Zaidi and Obaid Kamal who avenged the defeat in style in another semi-final at the same venue four years later. That three-wicket win changed the fortunes of Uttar Pradesh cricket. Perhaps, forever.
Zaidi wrecked Mumbai in the first innings, bagging 6/29 in 11.3 overs as UP skittled out the Amol Mazumdar-led side for 94 in just 34.3 overs after the home side chose to exploit the flat pitch on winning the toss. The two other seamers Obaid Kamal and Mohd Saif shared two wickets between them. Five of the Mumbai batsmen couldn’t open their account. Only skipper Mazumdar (31) and Jatin Paranjpe (42) offered some resistance.
Even after Mumbai had lost five wickets for 84, things could have been different, if the young Obaid had not uprooted the middle stump of a solid-looking Mazumdar with a direct throw from the mid-off region. In fact, that run-out became the turning point of the first innings.
Despite posting a small total, Mumbai looked confident of hitting back. But UP skipper Gyanendra Pandey (64) and ‘Mr Dependable’ Rizwan Shashad (43) defied the strong Mumbai bowling line-up consisting of Paras Mhambrey, Abey Kuruvilla, Nilesh Kulkarni, Sairaj Bahutule and RV Pawar to end Day One at 179/4.
By the end of Day Two, Uttar Pradesh sensed something special when Pandey and Shamshad smashed 109 and 64, respectively, to help the side score 293 in 99.4 overs. Pandey was dismissed by Kulkarni, taking a return catch off his own delivery, before Shamshad got out in a similar manner to Pawar. Mhambrey finished with 3/48.
Despite conceding a 199-run first innings lead against Uttar Pradesh, the hosts Mumbai didn’t lose heart and went on to score 328, setting a winning target of 130 for the visitors in the fourth innings. Paranjpe (83), Mazumdar (87) and Bahutule (44*) came up with some fine batting performances. For UP, this time it was Obaid who bagged 5/58 in 31 overs. Saif took 3/86, whereas Zaidi and Shamshad took a wicket each.
Uttar Pradesh were 2/26 with Jyoti Yadav (5) and Shamshad (4) batting at the end of Day Three in the second innings. Drama unfolded on the fourth day when UP started losing wickets at regular intervals and the scoreboard read 5/71. But it was not Mumbai’s day as Gyanendra Pandey stood like a rock and struck an unbeaten 45 to take his side home in 60.2 overs. Besides Pandey, Shamshad (25) and Jyoti Yadav (22) had major contributions. Nilesh Kulkarni took 4/46 and Pawar bagged 2/48.
“The win that day was like a dream come true for all of us. It set the tone for a bright future for Uttar Pradesh cricket,” Pandey recalled.
“We wanted to let the world know the strength of UP cricket. I still feel proud that I led the side then,” he said.
Pandey said that winning moment against Mumbai was unforgettable as everyone in this side had memories of their humiliation against the same team in 1994-95.
“I was so disappointed when we lost by a huge margin in the semi-final (1994-95). A few of us were determined to teach Mumbai a lesson in future. We did exactly that in 1998,” he added.
Gyanendra Pandey later played two ODIs for Team India against Pakistan, and helped UP cricket and cricketers see many more great moments as player, coach and also as junior national selector.
Obaid Kamal, another hero of the match, still remembers how he ran Mazumdar out in the first innings.
“I bluffed the batsman as I fumbled an easy push. Before he could think of getting back, I made a direct hit. It changed our fortunes in the first innings,” said Kamal, who hanged his boots in 2005-06 soon after UP lifted their maiden Ranji Trophy at KD Singh ‘Babu’ Stadium here, beating Bengal on the basis of the first innings lead.
Kamal praised Gyanendra for his aggressive leadership and the ability to handle the pressure in a crunch situation.
“Credit goes to Pandey for transforming UP cricket. It was after a gap of 18 years that we had made it to the Ranji Trophy final in 1998 and had our first win ever against Mumbai,” he said.
“The wicket was dry in the second innings. Even before the start of the day’s proceedings, I had told one of my journalist friends in Mumbai that it was going to be my day today. In fact, I planned each dismissal and moved the ball both ways. Although Shamshad dropped Mazumdar at slip, I made him dance to my tunes for 10-15 deliveries before he offered a straight-forward catch to Shamshad. This time there was no mistake,” said Kamal.
Shamshad, who scored 7,000 plus runs in domestic cricket but couldn’t play for Team India, also felt the team’s win in 1998 brought a drastic change in the the perspective of other top cricket playing states about UP.
“I still find that the team which played between 1998 and 2006, including cricketers like Mohd Kaif, Suresh Raina, Piyush Chawla, were the best in UP’s history.”