Bring back the Mumbai pride
Winning takes talent, to repeat takes character. And when a team that is a sure-shot winner doesn't deliver, all the decision-makers face the wrath. That's what happened when Mumbai were crushed by Rajasthan in the Ranji Trophy quarter-final.
The day Mumbai were shoved out of competition by Rajasthan, there was a reaction from Salim Durrani - who played for Rajasthan - that the souls of both Rajsingh Dungarpur and Hanumant Singh will feel avenged. Dungarpur went to crazy lengths to ensure a win. He went to the extent of resorting to superstitions: He placed a gentleman whose very presence was supposed to bring bad omen to the team outside the dressing room. Yet Mumbai won.
Dungarpur figured in seven Ranji finals against Mumbai and lost all of them. So he got a replica made of Ranji trophy and placed in the lobby of the Cricket Club of India. When asked he said, " I couldn't lay hands on the real trophy so I got this made". He would touch the trophy first thing when he entered the club.
Why are Mumbaikars raising a hue and cry over losing to Rajasthan? Didn't they fail to qualify for the knockouts on two occasions? The one factor that irks an average Mumbaikar is that after producing a genius like Sachin Tendulkar, Mumbai hasn't given a top cricketer to the country in past decade. Zaheer Khan may have played for Mumbai but he is an import. A couple of other Mumbai players have indeed played for India but they weren't consistent and couldn't leave a lasting mark.
The exploits of Tendulkar certainly have raised the expectations of Mumbaikars who boast about their cricketing heritage: Eighty-three tournaments are played on 66 turf pitches with 18,200 registered cricketers on its roll. I have watched and covered Mumbai cricket for over four decades. The difference in the teams of yesteryears and recent ones is that of single-minded commitment. The present generation, too, has the drive and passion, but when it needs to be converted to performance, it is not as consistent as its predecessors.
I recall that in the 1968-69 Ranji final between Mumbai and Bengal, Eknath Solkar suffered a family tragedy but fought on for his Mumbai. He was overnight on six and Mumbai needed 67 to take the vital first-innings lead with tailenders to follow. Solkar performed the last rites of his father and rushed to the Brabourne stadium from the crematorium with moist eyes to score the runs that helped Mumbai win.
Another instance is that of Sudhakar Adhikari. In 1961 Adhikari, an opener, rushed to the Brabourne stadium to play a Ranji match after getting married at 9.03 in the morning - those days match would start at 10.30 am - and after scoring a century, he returned for the reception party in the evening.
In 1976, a depleted Mumbai had conceded a lead of 59 runs to a strong Hyderabad, which boasted the likes ML Jaisimha, Tiger Pataudi, Abbas Ali Baig , Abid Ali, and Jayantilal. However, on the third day, with 216 to chase after lunch, Hyderabad were made to dance to the guile of legspinner Rakesh Tandon ( 6 for 62 ), shrewdly handled by captain Ashok Mankad and lost the game.
And then there was a match against Baroda in 1972. On a chilly morning, the ball swung prodigiously on the Moti Bagh Palace ground in Baroda and Mumbai stumbled to 76 for 6, and were shot out for 129. I remember Vijay Manjrekar ordering the caterers not to serve the lunch to the Mumbai team led by Dilip Sardsesai.They fought back gallantly and Baroda were tottering at 9 down 19 before they were bowled out for 42!
In 1976 in Kolkata, the Mumbai team collapsed from 161 for 1 to 256 for 8 and required a further 74 runs to overcome Bengal. That night all the players assembled in the overnight batsman Sharad Hazare's room to motivate him. Though he was hit on the face on the first day while keeping wicket and was spitting blood whole day, he kept wickets manfully. For three days he was on liquid diet as he just couldn't ingest food. Next day in the company of Rakesh Tandon, Hazare got those vital runs and with whatever strength he had, he shouted "Mumbai is Mumbai '.
What then ails Mumbai cricket? Is it that the city lacks quality cricketers or wants to rest its laurels on Tendulkar's success? Do the players lack the pride and gumption that are required to be a successful team? History records a stupendous contribution of Mumbai in terms of winning 73.62 % matches outright. Out of a total of 417 matches till the year of 2008-9, Mumbai won 307 matches outright. And in 76 years of the Ranji Trophy, Mumbai entered the final 43 times, and won 32 out of 39 finals outright.
Mumbai has known to be ruthless. But this season, the way they played against the veterans of Railways and minnows Assam, they looked like pussycats. As captain Wasim Jaffer admitted, Mumbai were complacent and arrogant. They paid the price against Rajasthan when on a fresh pitch they preferred to face the in-form Pankaj Singh and the new sensation Deepak Chahar. Mumbai teams were always arrogant because they had strong self belief and the talent to back it up.
Where has that Mumbai gone ask the old timers. The managing committee of the Mumbai Cricket Association investigated for four hours the reasons for Mumbai's loss to a team from the Plate Division. They felt the need to question the selection committee and the coach. The Cricket Improvement Committee ( CIC ), whose chairman Sunil Gavaskar couldn't attend the meeting, heard the selectors and referred the matter back to the managing committee. The managing committee discussed the minutes of the CIC meeting of the previous day and referred the matter back to CIC. So a cricket association is happy indulging in a game of ping pong.
The basic question is what made Mumbai perform badly. The issue needs mature and not emotional handling. The question that needs to be addressed is was this loss waiting to happen or happened unannounced. There is enough evidence available that it was waiting to happen. Unfortunately, Mumbai kept winning the league matches but not comfortably.
The cricket followers of Mumbai are pessimistic about the future with an election coming up in the next four months. The situation calls for thorough scrutiny and quick action from Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar and Sanjay Manjrekar along with other first-class cricketers in the association. Any delay will be termed as political and its consequences will be tragic.
Makarand Waingankar has spent four decades covering the grassroots of Indian cricket . He tweets here