There were sharply contrasting scenes in the home and away dressing-rooms immediately after Mumbai won the Ranji Trophy. There was music and sound of beer bottles being popped open from the Mumbai quarter, while Bengal were left wondering how a season that had gone so well ended in disappointment. When the captains of both teams, and the coaches addressed the media, Mumbai underscored the team nature of the game, while Bengal looked to draw what positives they could from the ride.
"I would rate this victory very high up the order in the wins we've had in the last 10-12 years because it has been a tremendous team effort," said Amol Muzumdar. "It has not been easy. After three games we were blank on the points table. The selectors, the players, the associations, everyone did their bit."
It has been a rollercoaster ride for the Mumbai team and Pravin Amre, the coach, was just happy that everything had turned out right in the end. "The way we began the season, it's a nightmare for any coach. Especially the Mumbai team. It's a high profile team and expectations are high that we win outright every time we go out to play," he said. "After those first three games we won five outright. We looked at the areas in which we were not doing well and worked on them. The selectors should also get credit because they backed the same set of boys even when they were not doing well. The captain took the team along as a unit all the time. He was always saying that the team could rise like the phoenix at any time. Saying that is one thing but the hard part is doing that out in the middle."
Even in the final, it was not Mumbai all the way. At one stage, with Manoj Tiwary and Sourav Ganguly going great guns, there was just the thought that Bengal could pull something really special out of the hat. "They were going well at one stage. But we always knew that if we got a breakthrough we could run through them," said Muzumdar. "We had that belief. Full credit to the bowlers Zaheer and Ajit, even Wilkin and Abhishek bowled superb spells to back things up."
Interestingly Paras Mhambrey, the Bengal coach, also felt, despite the fact that they were up against a target of 472, they were in with a serious chance. "The way Sourav and Manoj were going we definitely were in with a chance," said Mhambrey. "It was a case of building an innings. That's what we looked at. At one stage it was looking easy for us, when Sourav and Manoj were batting well and building a partnership. When Manoj got out, the damage was done."
Mhambrey pointed to Zaheer's spell in the first innings, which shot out Bengal for a mere 143, as the real cause for the defeat. "Zaheer's spell in the first innings was crucial. We've played well all season and just had one bad innings really," he said. "Zaheer bowled excellently and we kept losing wickets. We came back strongly and the way we played was good. It's good to see the approach was still positive throughout."
The way Sourav and Manoj were going we definitely were in with a chance, said Mhambrey. It was a case of building an innings. That's what we looked at. At one stage it was looking easy for us, when Sourav and Manoj were batting well and building a partnership. When Manoj got out, the damage was done.
If there were any fears in the Mumbai dressing-room that they were letting things slip away, they evaporated when Tiwary was dismissed, as Muzumdar revealed. "As soon as we got Manoj out we knew we were going to win this game," he said. "Sourav was still around and he is a great player. But we knew that one end had been opened up and that we could go the distance."
As the Mumbai captain rejoined his team in their celebrations, the coach was a very content man. "It's always an honour to be associated with the Mumbai team," he said. "I got my Mumbai cap twenty years ago, and I know the value of that. As a player I was never involved with winning the Ranji Trophy so it feels really great to be part of this winning team."
Mhambrey, Amre's counterpart, did his best to hide his disappointment, and stressed on the positives to emerge from the season. "We are disappointed. We've played very well through the season and winning does matter," he said. "But we can take a lot from the way we have played all season. There are individual performances to be proud off as well - Ranadeb picking up 50-odd wickets, the two young batsmen Abhishek Jhunjhunwalla and Manoj Tiwary scoring runs. Deep has led the side well. We're a young side in a development stage."