Paras Mhambrey, born on June 20, 1972 was an untiring servant of the Mumbai team in the 1990s and the early 2000s. Despite being one of the most consistent bowlers in the domestic circuit, his international career was limited to two Tests and three One-Day Internationals (ODIs). Nishad Pai Vaidya reflects on Mhambrey’s career.
Paras Mhambrey was in love with galli cricket like any other young boy in the city of Mumbai. His tryst with the sport started with rubber and tennis ball cricket in his residential compound, where kids would come together and indulge in the sport they love. Mhambrey, however, was a late bloomer — he took up cricket only after he completed his 10th grade.
“I used to see many kids play cricket when I used to pass by Shivaji Park. I had a genuine liking for the cricket, but the sport was not played in my school. One day I went up to my father and told him I wanted to play cricket. There were no specific aims; I only wanted to play cricket and enrolled myself in one of the camps there,” Mhambrey says.
Mhambrey recalls the punishing grind: “In my initial years, I played a lot of practice matches and that helped me understand the finer points. Our schedule was packed. I would reach Shivaji Park at seven in the morning and used to practice till nine. We used to then play a match till 4.00 pm. It was then practice time again till dusk. The routine went on for a few years.”
Such an intense regime helped Mhambrey make up for the lost years as he caught up with those who played the sport from their school days. In 1988, he made it to the Bombay under-17 side. The hard work was paying off.
Breaking into a formidable Bombay side was a very tough task. Mhambrey continued to perform in different age groups as he had a successful time with the Bombay under-19s in 1990 and 1991. A stint with Frank Tyson, through the Bombay Cricket Association (BCA)-Mafatlal Scheme for bowlers helped him grow as a player. “It was a turning point in my career when I came under Tyson’s tutelage. I started understanding the basics and dynamics of cricket. Fitness wasn’t a culture in the Mumbai them. After that camp, we started focusing on that area.”
The whole experience changed Mhambrey’s perspective towards cricket. He got a chance to represent Bombay in the Buchi Babu Tournament and a good outing there fast-tracked his selection to the senior side for the Ranji Trophy. The debut came against Uttar Pradesh during the 1992-93 season, but it was a damp affair. Mhambrey got to bowl only three overs in a rain-affected game and had to wait till the next season for a full opportunity.
In the 1993-94 season, Mhambrey announced his arrival with 30 wickets in eight games at an average of 23.73. “In your first season, you try to learn things and settle down and it does take a couple of games. It was my opportunity to play alongside the Vengsarkars, Manjrekars and the Tendulkars, to name a few. When you have a few good games in your career, it does help you. It gave me the confidence that I belong here. I was trying to implement what my teammates told me.”
During that season, one spell stood out and the selectors took notice of him. In the game against Maharashtra, his figures of five for 35 bundled the opposition out for 75.
“I think it was one of my best spells. I remember Shantanu Sugwekar, the Maharashtra mainstay, was retired hurt in the second innings and left for the hospital. While he was away, I ran through the side and bowled them out. When he returned, he was shocked and said, “All-out ho gaya!“
Bombay went on to clinch yet another Ranji title. It is a moment Mhambrey cherishes even today as a “precious first one”, although, he has been part of five victorious campaigns in his career.
That consistency spilled into the next season as he finished with 54 wickets. A progression to the senior level was natural as the selectors picked him to represent India A in 1995. “It was one run below playing for your country and it is an opportunity players wait for. I got there by performing in domestic cricket and my goal was to play for India. And I did well there. The Irani Trophy game in 1995 helped me go to the next level. Playing against a good Rest of India side at the Wankhede Stadium, I picked up five for 20.”
The 1996 World Cup was on everybody’s mind as it was to be held on home soil. Having performed well for India A, Mhambrey was on the radar for the big event. However, he narrowly missed out on that tournament. “There was a preparatory camp before the 1996 World Cup and the selectors had zeroed in on five fast bowlers — Venkatesh Prasad, Javagal Srinath, Manoj Prabhakar, Salil Ankola and myself. I missed out, and the four were picked to play the World Cup.”
Mhambrey relied on swing, more than pace which put him in contention for the tour of England later that year. “I was a swing bowler. I wasn’t someone who bowled at 140. My strength was in moving the ball. At my best I would touch 135. I focused on my skills and kept it tight.”
It was around then that Mhambrey was appearing for his third year Bachelor of Commerce (B.Com) exams and had taken a break from cricket after that camp. The call-up for the England tour came as a huge surprise to him. “I never expected the call as India already had four fast-bowlers. This was supposed to be in May and June, where there is almost no cricket in Mumbai. As a result, I concentrated on my exams and had little or no practice. There was no one to guide me through that period as well. When I came out of the exam hall after a paper, one of my friends broke the news to me. I was surprised and started bowling, but there was no place for me to do that as it was raining in Mumbai.”
Wearing the Indian jersey — finally
Mhambrey made his international debut in a One-Day International (ODI) against England at The Oval. The maiden experience was a mixed bag as he picked two wickets, but conceded 69 runs in his nine overs. “I picked up a wicket off the second ball of my first over. However, I wasn’t at my best and I knew that. I was trying to make the best of what I had, as I wasn’t prepared well.”
The struggle continued through the tour. Mhambrey made his Test debut at Edgbaston in the first Test and also featured in the second at Lord’s. “You cannot expect results at that level if you are not prepared well,” he explains. In the two Tests, he picked only two wickets and eight in as many First-Class matches on the tour.
While that outing may have been a humbling experience, Mhambrey continued to perform consistently at the domestic level. The 1997-98 season was his best season by far as he scalped 54 wickets at 17.20. The selectors rewarded that performance with a call-up for the tri-series against Bangladesh and Kenya in 1998. His comeback ODI was his last international appearance, and it came against Bangladesh at his home ground in Mumbai. It was a huge moment and he was eager to do well.
“With this opportunity coming my way, I tried doing things out of the box. I bowled six overs and picked one wicket for 22 runs. I tried too hard, but didn’t do too badly.”
After that, he was never considered for India again, but continued to manfully toil for Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy. In his final season [2002-03], he captained Mumbai to the title and then called it a day. He was only 30 and could have easily played on for a few more seasons, but he felt the time had come to bid farewell to his playing days. “By then, the word going around was that they were only considering youngsters for the national side. I wasn’t getting opportunities for the zonal sides as well. So, I called it a day as I didn’t want to go through the motions. I could have played a few more seasons and taken many more wickets, but figures and statistics didn’t matter to me.”
Mhambrey’s association with the game, however, didn’t end there as he took up coaching — something he had done even during his playing days. He credits Makarand Waingankar for helping him take it up more seriously as he then went on to coach Maharashtra and then Bengal. He was also coach of the India A side against South Africa in September 2007. Still young and fresh, Mhambrey got along very well with the players, “Having played with and against quite a few of them, I was more a friend to the players and the camaraderie was excellent. My experience of playing helped me when I got to the other end of the spectrum and it held me in good stead.”
Today, Mhambrey is the Assistant Coach at the Mumbai Indians and is ecstatic that they won their maiden Indian Premier League (IPL) title in their sixth attempt in 2013. As a coach, he is learning and eying new avenues. “I want to keep learning and took up the Mumbai Indians job as a challenge. T20 cricket is a different ball game and strategising for it isn’t easy. It is great to work with people of the stature of Shaun Pollock, John Wright and Anil Kumble. I will continue to educate myself and better my prospects for the future.”
Mhambrey picked up 284 First-Class wickets at a highly respectable average of 24.36 and finished with a batting average of almost 20, with one hundred and five fifites. Considering the fact that he was around when there was a serious dearth of all-rounders and a poor crop of fast bowlers, one cannot help but feel that he deserved more opportunities than just the two Tests and three ODIs he got in a career that lasted 11 years.