Mumbai, or erstwhile Bombay, has definitely produced more Test cricketers of quality than any other Ranji Trophy side. As they eye another Ranji triumph, Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at the lesser known stars who had stayed back to serve their team when the big guns were on international duty.
He was there, waiting with his pads on, when Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli had added unbeaten 664 runs for the third wicket. Amol Muzumdar’s 260 on his First-Class debut – scored for Bombay against Haryana in 1993-94 – still remains a world record. That season, he was nominated the vice-captain of the Indian Under-19 side. He has scored 11,070 runs at 49.20 in First-Class cricket, of which 9,105 have been in the Ranji Trophy. In fact, he was the first player to have scored 9,000 runs in the tournament, and remains the highest scorer – regaining the throne from Wasim Jaffer who had usurped it for a while after Muzumdar had gone past Amarjit Kaypee’s 7,623 in 2009-10.
And yet, he could not break through to the star-studded Indian middle order of the 1990s and the 2000s. He vented his fury on the Ranji Trophy, scoring hundreds at will for Mumbai; his 28 hundreds Ranji hundreds stand a record, next only to the 31 shared by Ajay Sharma and Jaffer. His voracious appetite for runs have continued for close to two decades now; in an amazing run from 1994-95 to 1997-98, he scored 1,068, 788, 942 and 788 in the four seasons. He bettered that from 2003-04 to 2007-08, when he topped 500 in five consecutive seasons.
He has always been a really proud Mumbaikar. He has mentioned that that “Bombay cricket… issey ek baar chakh liya to chakh liya (once you’ve had a taste of it, you’ll long for more). Mumbai cricket is an addiction for life.” He led them to a Ranji Trophy victory in 2006; and yet, despite his sublime form, Mumbai dropped him from their T20 side. Agitated and let down, he shifted to Assam, and currently plays for Andhra Pradesh. Even at this age, he has scored 868 at 78.90 with five hundreds in the current Ranji Trophy season.
He simply cannot stop himself from scoring runs. In fact, that is the sole reason that he seems to exist. In his own words, “Runs are blood; when runs stop, you feel you are out of place; if the blood flow stops, it is difficult to live; similarly, what drives me is to go out there and perform, which means to get runs.”
And now, at 38, after his sublime form and the dismal performance of India at the highest level, he is optimistic enough to think that he is good enough to make his Test debut. The very thought still keeps him going.
As the 2012-13 final began, Wasim Jaffer needed 83 runs to go past Muzumdar’s tally of 9,105. He also needs a single hundred to go past Ajay Sharma’s record of 31. Ideally, he would want to do both in one go – as well as helping Mumbai lift their 40th Ranji Trophy. It is very likely, since his record against Saurashtra is phenomenal.
In his second First-Class match, he had scored 314 not out against Saurashtra – the first triple-hundred by a Mumbaikar at an away ground. Standing up against Saurashtra’s 595 for four, Jaffer added 459 with Sulakshan Kulkarni for the first wicket, and Mumbai reached 647 for four, acquiring the all-important first-innings lead. Jaffer had arrived.
That was not his only 300, though. He picked out the same opposition in the 2008-09 semifinal. He scored 301, helping Mumbai reach 637 for six – taking the match out of Saurashtra’s hands. In all, he has scored 1,383 runs against Saurashtra at 106.38 with six hundreds.
He had broken past Muzumdar’s record for the most runs in the Ranji Trophy – though Muzumdar has won his record back, mostly because Jaffer had a late start to the current season. His hunger has not become any less, though. In the 2008-09 season, he broke the Mumbai record for most runs in a season, scoring 1,260 – a record that still stands – and in the current Ranji season Jaffer has scored 703 at 70.30 with two hundreds, and looks as fresh as ever.
Despite playing 31 Tests and scoring five hundreds (against Pakistan, England, the West Indies and South Africa, with two of them being 200s), Jaffer has turned up for Mumbai and has scored innumerable runs for them, season after season. Unlike Muzumdar, Jaffer has stuck to one, and only one Ranji side, and his commitment has not gone any less over the years.
It did not take Rege a lot to move out of his illustrious childhood friend’s shadow. But when he eventually turned up for Bombay, he found a niche of his own. A talented off-spinner and a more than dependable batsman, Milind Rege became a regular for the champion Bombay side of the 1970s.
He picked up in form, and was considered one of the most talented cricketers of Bombay today, and with regular contributions for his side, he increased in stature. However, after a mild heart-attack at the age of 25 limited his activities on the ground, his dream of playing for the nation was shattered.
He still went on playing till the age of 29 though, contributing with the bat and ball, and taking up a pivotal role when the big guns were on international duty. However, the restrictions meant that he first had to give up bowling, and then the sport. Even then, he played as a specialist batsman in his last season – 1977-78 – where he also led the champion Bombay side.
All three sons of Vinoo Mankad went on to play First-Class cricket. Of them, Ashok was the most successful, making it to the top level, playing 22 Tests and scoring almost a thousand runs. However, it was in the domestic circuit that Ashok was hailed as a champion, averaging a phenomenal 50.90 with the bat. In the Ranji Trophy alone, he scored 6,619 runs at a phenomenal average of 76.08. His contest against Madan Lal – when the latter picked up eight for 118 – in the Ranji Trophy final of 1980-81 is still talked about in the Mumbai cricket circuit: in an innings where only two others crossed 20, Mankad amassed 265, and Delhi was beaten by an innings.
More than his batting, though, Mankad was known for his astute captaincy skills. He was known to be a great reader of conditions, a supreme assessor of human characters, and had the ability to pick out the weaknesses of batsmen very early. His field placements and bowling changes have changed the course of many a match. Thanks to his limited appearances for his country, Mankad was a regular for the all-conquering Mumbai side by virtue of his shrewd leadership and insatiable appetite for runs.
He later went on to coach Mumbai, Madhya Pradesh, Railways and Baroda.
The towering influence of Sunil Gavaskar meant that the great Madhav Mantri has been reduced to being referred to as Gavaskar’s uncle who had played four Tests for India. In reality, Mantri was one of the stalwarts of the mighty Bombay side – assuming the triple duties of captain, wicket-keeper and opening batsman. Indeed, he was one of those who had laid the foundation stones for the all-conquering Bombay side that ruled Indian cricket from the mid-1950s to the end-1970s.
Possibly infuriated by his omission from the Australia tour of 1948, Mantri decided to vent it out on the hapless oppositions. In the subsequent Ranji Trophy – possibly his finest – Mantri scored 117 in the pre-quarterfinal, 116 in the quarterfinal, 200 in the semifinal, and 70 and 30 in the final against Baroda – resulting in a 468-run win.
As age crept in, Mantri passed over his gloves to Naren Tamhane, but continued to play on as a mentor and a rock-solid batsman. On a Brabourne dustbowl in the 1953-54 season, Mantri scored a sound 193 out of a team score of 385; his technique was faultless. He even added an unbeaten 35 in the second innings, resulting in a 10-wicket victory.
It was he who had helped trigger Bombay’s famous winning streak, beginning in 1955-56. Later, he acted as a mentor for many cricketers – the most important of all being his legendary nephew who went on to amass 10,122 Test runs. As the manager of the Indian cricket team to England in 1990, he was also the main voice behind Sachin Tendulkar’s cementing a firm place in the Indian cricket team during his early days.
At 91, Mantri is the oldest living Indian Test cricketer, possibly due to his most revered virtues, as per Gavaskar: discipline and self-control.
(A hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobic by his own admission, Abhishek Mukherjee is a statistical analyst based in Kolkata, India. He typically looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – not necessarily as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the game with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a rather steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers the sport has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks and googlies in street cricket)
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