Loss and longing in Bombay
Haryana 522 (Deepak Sharma 199, Jadeja 94, Kuruvilla 4-128) and 242 (Banerjee 60, Ankola 3-39) beat Bombay 410 (Patil 85, Rajput 74, Bhandari 5-118) and 352 (Vengsarkar 139*, Tendulkar 96) by 2 runs
It was not that Kapil Dev loved Haryana any less, just that the country needed his services more. Kapil had been playing first-class cricket for 15 years coming into the 1990-91 Ranji final, but in all those years he had played just 33 Ranji matches for 133 wickets - against 573 wickets from 273 appearances for India.
He badly wanted a championship win on his CV, and began to make his presence felt in every Ranji match Haryana played. Now, at last, he was one step away from glory after helping his team win the semi-final against Bengal at the Eden Gardens with his innings of 141 and bowling figures of 5 for 85.
The final was a test of Kapil's leadership. Could he get his meager resources to stand up against a side that had won the Ranji Trophy 30 times and had eight Test players, no less?
For the first four days, it appeared he could. The gods smiled on Haryana as the Bombay fielders and batsmen behaved like kamikaze kids. Having conceded a first-innings lead, Bombay's only hope now was an outright victory. Their target: 355 in 190 minutes and 20 mandatory overs.
On a fifth-day track against Kapil and Chetan Sharma, it was daunting. The improbable began to look impossible as Bombay tumbled to 34 for 3 when Sanjay Manjrekar fell at the stroke of lunch. A sizeable number of spectators left the ground - a decision they were to regret.
After lunch, Sachin Tendulkar, still only 18 years old, launched a counterattack with a six over the straight field off a slower one from Kapil. It was a declaration of intent. Tendulkar then greeted left-arm spinner Pradeep Jain with another straight six. As word of Tendulkar's charge spread around the city, the Wankhede began to fill up. Before long, 18000 had thronged to witness the unfolding of an epic.
Tendulkar swung and pulled Jain for two more sixes, and then treated offspinner Yogendra Bhandari likewise. He had hit Bhandari for three fours in an over when he sent a full-toss straight into the hands of extra cover. In a stand of 134 for the fourth wicket with Dilip Vengsarkar, Tendulkar had contributed 96, off 75 balls.
There were more problems in store for Bombay. Almost as soon as he completed his century, Vengsarkar suffered cramps in his thighs and needed a runner.
At the start of the mandatory overs Bombay needed 114 runs - at 5.7 an over - with six wickets in hand. Haryana kept getting wickets at encouraging intervals - Vinod Kambli fell in the second, Chandrakant Pandit in the sixth, Raju Kulkarni in the ninth and Sanjay Patil in the 13th.
When last man Abey Kuruvilla joined Vengsarkar, Bombay needed 49 to win. The next five balls saw Vengsarkar put Bhandari through the shredder: the scoring sequence red 6, 4, 6, 6, 4. In the next over, Vengsarkar hurled Kapil high over long-on and into the stands.
Kuruvilla, then a C-division player with no batting pretensions, helped Vengsarkar add 47 runs. He had done exceptionally well as a bowler on his debut, and now as a batsman managed to survive for a full 25 balls after Vengsarkar had repeatedly - and unconscionably - taken singles off the first ball of successive overs, exposing Kuruvilla to the Haryana attack.
Bombay had 14 balls in which to get three runs for the victory when Kuruvilla was tragically run out following a mix-up with runner Lalchand Rajput. Vengasrkar collapsed in a heap at square leg, and Rajput and Kuruvilla froze in disappointment as the Haryana players rushed in a victory wave towards the pavilion.
The enduring image of the final was the sight of a forlorn Vengsarkar (139 not out off 137 balls, five sixes, nine fours) crying unabashedly as he dragged himself on wobbly legs back to the dressing room where he proceeded to sit in a corner, eyes bloodshot, with not a team-mate venturing near him. It was a moment that moved a nation - much like Paul Gascoigne had in the 1990 World Cup.
This article first appeared in the May 2002 issue of Wisden Asia Cricket