Ranji Trophy: The heroes who held Mumbai’s fort when the big stars were away on national duty… Part 3 of 3
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.
Nilesh Kulkarni relied more on accuracy, varying his length to trap the batsmen. Photo Courtesy – SJAM.
It was a surprise that the 6’4″ Kulkarni turned out to be an innocuous left-arm spinner. He was not a great spinner of the ball, but relied more on accuracy, varying his length to trap the batsmen. He was not a firm believer of experimenting with variations in flight: he simply wore the batsmen down with his consistency.
He was a permanent fixture for the Bombay/Mumbai side, and played consistently from 1994-95 to 2006-07, playing a crucial role in almost all of them, his average going past the 30-mark only thrice in an era where flat wickets and high scores were the order of the Indian domestic circuit.
Though he faded out in the later years due to stiff competition from his younger colleagues, his contribution to his state at the turn of the millennium and just before that cannot be ignored.
He played three Tests for India, and was the first Indian bowler to take a wicket with his first ball in Test cricket.
Sairaj Bahutule was a consistent performer for Mumbai © AFP
Sairaj Bahutule was the mainstay of the Bombay bowling attack in the 1990s. He established himself firmly in the side in the 1993-94 season with 393 runs at 49.12 and 39 wickets at 24.56. Since then, he was considered as one of the leading all-rounders in Indian domestic circuit, scoring runs and taking wickets. Though he was good enough to average 31.83 at First-Class level with the bat with nine centuries – his contributions with the ball helped Bombay continue their good work in the 1990s and 2000s.
A 13-wicket haul in the 1997-98 Irani Trophy won a close encounter for Bombay (Anil Kumble almost won it for them with 11 wickets) and a Test cap for Bahutule. He played only two Tests, though. He kept on delivering for Mumbai, season after season. He shifted to Maharashtra in 2005, but returned to Mumbai in 2008, and was promptly a member of the Ranji Trophy winning side.
He also played for Andhra Pradesh and Assam, and finally retired from Vidarbha earlier this year.
Kenny was not your regular Bombay batsman: unlike the other greats of his side who relied more on technique, temperament and concentration, the frail Kenny’s batting was built around style and panache. His nimble footwork and elegant strokeplay stood out amidst the dour accumulation of runs that so exemplified the school of Bombay batting, especially in the 1950s.
Even then, Kenny was good enough to play 5 Tests (and score 3 Test fifties) and average 50.47 in First-Class cricket with 11 hundreds. In the 1956-57 season – the season that started Bombay’s famous spree – Kenny came into his elements: he smashed 139 against Maharashtra, 132 against Uttar Pradesh and a career-best 218 against Madras in three consecutive innings. He ended that season with an average of 105.80.
He later turned up for Bengal, and retired from there.
Paras Mhambrey led Mumbai’s bowling attack in the 1990s © Getty Images
Along with Kulkarni and Bahutule, Mhambrey led the Bombay attack in the 1990s, acting as both the stock and the shock bowler. After picking up 30 wickets in his debut season in 1993-94, he bettered that with 54 wickets at 23.40 in the next season. He bettered that with another burst of 54 wickets – this time at 17.20 – in the 1997-98 season. In between all this he played two Tests as well.
He kept on delivering for Mumbai even at the turn of the millennium, and despite picking up 20 wickets at 16.80 in 2001-02 and 25 more at 23.60 in 2002-03, he vanished from the domestic circuit thereafter. His First-Class career read 284 wickets at 24.36; he was handy with the bat as well, scoring 1,665 runs in his cavalier mode: playing against Maharashtra, he lifted Mumbai from 139 to 7 to 301 with an entertaining 117, and helping inflict an innings defeat.
He later did a Level-3 coaching diploma, coached Bengal to two consecutive Ranji Trophy finals after 16 years, and also coached Baroda.
Ramesh Powar also delivered with the bat © AFP
Ramesh Powar would probably have played more international cricket had his career not coincided with Kumble and Harbhajan Singh. He was restricted to 2 Tests and 31 ODIs, still doing a commendable job for his country (in ODIs, especially, he picked up 34 wickets at 35.02 with an impressive economy rate of 4.65). It was his performances for Mumbai, though, that really kept on impressing all and sundry.
After a very early India stint (he scored a hundred in each season from 2000-01 to 2003-04) and over a 100 wickets, he was selected for India, but dropped shortly after. He added the drifter to his repertoire, and came back with a vengeance, picking up 54 wickets at 25.14 in 2004-05 and 63 more at 23.06 in 2005-06. He also continued to deliver with the bat at the same time: many a match has been decided by his lower-order batting or his ability to fox the batsman with his old-fashioned guile and subtle variations in flight, and generally more than made up for the absence of the likes of Tendulkar, Jaffer and Zaheer Khan, who were often away on international duty.
Ghulam Parkar was famously involved in a 421-run opening partnership against Bengal in the 1981-82 quarter-final.
Ghulam Parkar, who had played a solitary Test, was the leading opener for Bombay after Ashok Mankad’s retirement and in Gavaskar’s absence. An aggressive batsman, he scored 4,167 runs at 42.09 in First-Class cricket, but in Ranji Trophy the numbers read 3,087 at 49.79.
He was famously involved in a 421-run opening partnership against Bengal in the 1981-82 quarter-final. This came after an unbeaten 148 in the same season, and was followed by valiant efforts of 84 and 68 in the semi-final as Bombay went down to Karnataka. He ended the season with 624 runs at 62.40, following 797 at 49.81 the previous season.
He was determined to win a Ranji Trophy for Bombay – and achieved that in the 1984-85 season. By then, Gavaskar had decided to move down the order, and Parkar was the senior opener. He scored 748 runs in the season at 57.53 with a hundred and five 50s, and was one of the heroes of Bombay’s last tournament win before a drought lasting nine seasons.
Lalchand Rajput played an instrumental role in taking Bombay to the championship in the successive seasons of 1983-84 and 1984-85.
In the mid-1980s, when Sunil Gavaskar was at the fag end of his career (though there was really no dearth of performances), there had been doubts regarding Krishnamachari Srikkanth’s technique, and Navjot Sidhu had still not arrived, India suddenly faced a dearth of openers. That was the period when Lalchand Rajput suddenly came into contention, and was drafted into the Indian team. He did not last long at the international level, though, playing only two Tests and four ODIs – but it was for Bombay that he really came into his own.
Unlike the other Bombay stalwarts of the mid-1980s, Rajput was not a flamboyant stroke player. Indeed, it was as a dour accumulator that his reputation was built upon. He had often played in the shadows of champions like Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar, Sandeep Patil and Ravi Shastri: however, when the big guns were away, he took upon the responsibility of Bombay on his shoulders.
Rajput’s First-Class numbers read 7,988 runs at 49.30 with 20 hundreds; he was also capable enough to pick up 59 wickets. However, it was the amazing consistency that really makes Rajput stand out in the Indian domestic circuit: playing from 1981-82 to 1998-99 he averaged over 40 with the bat in every season barring the last, after which he promptly retired. In eight of these seasons he crossed 50, and in five of these eight he crossed even sixty, his highest being 75.25 in 1997-98.
He had played an instrumental role in taking Bombay to the championship in the successive seasons of 1983-84 (372 runs at 53.14) and 1984-85 (737 runs at 40.94). In the latter, especially, after Delhi took a 65-run lead in the final and had Bombay cornered at 31 for 2, Rajput combined with Patil to lead a revival, and eventually scored a crucial 63 to result in a Bombay victory.
He reached his zenith in the consecutive seasons of 1986-87 (881 runs at 67.76) and 1987-88 (928 runs at 66.28). Even during his peak he found it difficult to find a place in the strong Bombay outfit, and shifted to Assam after a brief stint as the captain of Bombay: it was for Assam that he added 475 runs with Zahir Alam – still a record for the second wicket in Ranji Trophy; later on he shifted to Vidarbha.
He also played in the Scottish League, and even represented Scotland in the Benson and Hedges and NatWest Trophies. Later, he shifted to coaching, and coached India Under-15 and Under-19 teams, the Mumbai Ranji team. He was also the manager of the 2007 T20 World Cup champion Indian side.
The relatives of legends have always found it difficult to find their own identity at the higher levels of cricket. Baloo Gupte, playing under the shadow of his legendary brother Subhash, could not make the most out of the three Tests he had played for India. Though he was a bigger spinner of the ball than his brother, he did not have his variety of his illustrious brother.
In the domestic circuit, however, Baloo wreaked havoc with the ball: he took 417 wickets at a more than impressive 24.88. In Ranji Trophy alone his numbers read 255 wickets at 23.47. His greatest performance, though, came in Duleep Trophy, after he was selected to play South Zone for West Zone. On a batting wicket Baloo took 9 for 55 on the first day – still the best figures in Duleep Trophy – against a line-up consisting of Abid Ali, Abbas Ali Baig and ML Jaisimha.
His career (1953-1970) almost coincided with Bombay’s unbeaten run (1958-59 to 1972-73); in the 1961-62 semifinal at Feroz Shah Kotla, he bowled a relentless spell of 8 for 111 to bowl his side to victory; he followed it with match figures of 6 for 61 against the perpetual bridesmaid of the era – Rajasthan. In the next season he took seven five-fors in the first eight innings in which he bowled. A couple of seasons later he bowled Bombay to victory in the Irani Trophy with figures of 8 for 48.
He had also played two seasons for Bengal and one more for Railways in the late 1950s, but his form did not wane. Indeed, in the 10 seasons from 1955-56 to 1964-65, he averaged less than 30 in nine; and in the final four seasons of this phase, he had 44 wickets at 20.52, 76 at 19.18, 60 at 28.70 and 47 at 22.63 – an unbelievable spree of 227 wickets in four seasons. He bowled on and on, and his relentless performances made him the unsung hero of the Ranji Champions during their phenomenal run of the 1960s.
Chandrakant Pandit served Bombay in a three-way role, as a batsman, wicket-keeper and captain.
Chandrakant Pandit was not your usual Bombay batsman. Rather than building up his innings based on copy-book technique and an insatiable appetite for runs, Pandit was a dasher who was willing to take any attack to the cleaners. This is probably why he had managed to play 36 ODIs as opposed to five Tests. Indeed, his batting talents were so visible and his aggressive style so impressive that he did turn up for India as a specialist batsman while Kiran More adorned the gloves.
He was a skilled wicket-keeper, though: he had served Bombay in a three-way role, as a batsman, wicket-keeper and captain. He announced himself as with a dominant 157 in the Ranji Trophy final of 1982-83 – a match that Bombay ultimately went on to lose.
Pandit had two consecutive major seasons, scoring 570 at 95.00 in 1985-86 and 521 at 74.42 in 1986-87. This earned him the coveted post of Bombay captain in 1987-88, 1988-89 and 1989-90 after which he hung up his boots. He came back with a vengeance, though, playing for Madhya Pradesh for a decade, retiring finally after the 2000-01 season. His career statistics read 8,209 runs at 48.57 and 322 victims in 138 matches.
After retirement he coached Mumbai to two consecutive Ranji victories in 2002-03 and 2003-04. Later he shifted to Maharashtra as a coach, and also had a brief stint as the national coach of Kenya. He currently leads the selection committee Indian junior cricket.
Starting his career as a fast bowler with a slightly non-trivial action where his head tilted sideways as he released the ball. With age he cut down on pace, and relied more on accuracy. He was good enough to play three Tests and 10 ODIs for India, but soon found himself out of the side.
He had a sensational start to his Ranji career: he was given the first share of the cherry on debut, and began with match figures of 3 for 45 against Gujarat; he followed it up with 5 for 99 against Saurashtra; in the next match – in the quarter-final – he returned match figures of 7 for 60 against Orissa; and then, in the semi-final, he routed Delhi with figures of 8 for 111 to catch the eyes of the national selectors after only four matches. He finished with another 5-for in the final against Karnataka, thereby ending his maiden season with 30 wickets at 18.00.
The selectors picked him for the ODIs next season, but he was dropped despite not doing too badly. He had an emergency call-up for his Test debut, and did not do too badly; however, he went on to serve Bombay loyally for a decade, picking up 232 wickets at 32.99. The numbers do not tell the entire tale, though: his career was spent in the 1980s and early 1990s – an era when pitches in Indian domestic cricket was designed to make high scores – and in exceptional cases, tailored for the spinners. It was a tough ask surviving as a seamer in the era in which he played.
Towards the fag end of his career he led Bombay in four matches in the 1992-93 season. He retired that year, and now runs a sports goods business.
Rusi Modi. Caricature by Austin Coutinho
As the entire world was busy fighting each other in the early 1940s, Indian domestic cricket flourished in what can safely be called the Golden Age of Indian batsmanship. In an era when the two Vijays – Merchant and Hazare – furiously attempted to break each other’s record for the highest first-class score on Indian soil, Rusi Modi emerged as a worthy competitor.
For Indians who have played at least 10 Tests, Modi ranks eighth in the list of Indian batsmen in terms of batting averages, ahead of the likes of VVS Laxman, Mohammad Azharuddin and Sourav Ganguly. Modi had scored 736 Test runs at an average of 46.00 in an era of uncovered wickets, and his series tally of 560 against the mighty West Indies in 1948-49 remained a series record for India for 13 years.
But that was domestic cricket. In all First-Class cricket Modi scored 7,529 runs at 53.02 with 20 hundreds; in Ranji Trophy matches, all for Bombay, he scored 2,696 runs at a phenomenal 81.69 with 10 hundreds; never before in Indian cricket had a batsman combined lazy elegance with efficiency to produce batsmanship of such high quality. He was a lesser batsman than both Merchant and Hazare in terms of consistency; however, few batsmen have mesmerised teammates, the oppositions and the spectators with strokeplay so dazzling.
Modi scored 144 on his First-Class debut, playing for Parsees against Europeans. Soon afterwards, he was chosen to play for Bombay: Modi scored 168 against Maharashtra, 128 against Western India, 160 against Sind, 210 against Western India, 245 not out and 31 not out against Baroda, 113 against Northern India and 98 and 151 against Holkar. In between all this, he scored a 215 against Europeans, and when the Australians visited for an unofficial series, Modi scored a 203 – the first double-hundred by an Indian in a representative match – an innings that he considers his best.
In the process he scored five hundreds in five consecutive Ranji innings – a record that still stands – and seven hundreds in as many matches. In 1944-45 he was the first batsman to score 1,000 runs in a single Ranji Trophy season; he amassed 1,008 runs at 201.60 – a record that stood for 44 years. In all first-class cricket that season he scored 1,375 runs at 114.58 with 6 hundreds. He achieved all this at the age of 20.
He kept scoring runs for Bombay with mindless consistency; in 1945-46 he scored 756 at 58.15; in 1946-47, 981 at 65.40; and in 1948-49, 560 at 56.00. He crossed 60 four more times – in 1951-52, 1953-54, 1956-57 and 1957-58. He was instrumental in setting up the batting line-up the initial stages of Bombay’s famous run that began in the late 1950s.
After his batting faded out, Modi became a very popular cricket writer. Like a true-blue Bombay cricketer, he died of a heart attack at the Cricket Club of India at the Brabourne Stadium.
Eknath Solkar © Getty Images
If there was a fairytale story in the annals of Bombay cricket, it is possibly Solkar’s. A more than capable left-hand batsman, an efficient left-arm medium-pace bowler and spinner and an out-of-the-world close in fielder, Solkar, like his predecessor in the Indian cricket team Rusi Surti, has often been referred to as the poor man’s Garry Sobers. Yet, he was a the son of a groundsman at the Hindu Gymkhana in Bombay, and he and his entire family (including five siblings) grew up in a one-room hut. From there, he rose to the stature of one of the greatest fielders of all time.
1,068 Test runs and 18 wickets from 27 Tests hardly do justice to Solkar’s talent as a cricketer; one needs to have a close look, though, at the number of times he had helped India recover from a tight corner with the bat, or has provided a vital breakthrough with the ball.
Also, what one tends to ignore is the fact that he had also taken 53 catches, fielding without a helmet standing insanely close to the bat; and his catches per Test ratio (1.96) is the best among non-wicket-keepers with 20 or more Tests. His fielding has won accolades from teammates like Bishan Bedi and Gavaskar as well as opposition legends like Tony Greig; and he sledging of Geoff Boycott is a part of cricket folklore.
In First-Class cricket, however, Solkar scored 6,851 runs at 29.27, 276 wickets at 30.00 and took 190 catches from 189 matches. He was a consistent performer for Bombay, and performed well in all three departments. He scored 43 not out and took 6 for 38 on his Ranji debut against Saurashtra, and never looked back. In 1968-69, the season when he had been named the Indian Cricketer of the Year, Solkar scored 439 runs at 31.35, took 42 wickets at 23.04 and even took 20 catches for good measure.
During his career, Bombay’s unbeaten run was broken by Karnataka, who repeated their feat four seasons later. Then, when Delhi won the Ranji Trophy in consecutive seasons, the skeptics began to think that their time was over. It was then that Solkar took over as Bombay captain. He led Bombay to a tournament victory, defeating the defending champions in the finals – and led from the front, averaging 43.50 with the bat and 36.60 with the ball in the season as well as taking 7 catches.
He retired after that year’s final, and passed away in 2005 at an age of 57.
(A hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobiac 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, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in)