A new trend has sprouted from somewhere in international cricket in the new millennium: pitches and conditions producing high scores are often considered as good ones, whereas the ones resulting in low-scoring matches are usually classified as poor ones, often leading to ICC queries.
What people tend to forget is that high-scoring matches lasting over days can be really tedious at times. Add to that the Ranji Trophy rule that the team getting a first-innings lead in a knock-out match is declared the winner, and you have a yawnathon at your disposal. However, matches played to an end — to ensure that the first-innings lead becomes redundant — can turn out to be a challenge, to the spectators as well.
The Bombay-Maharashtra Ranji Trophy semifinal of the 1948-49 season, played at Poona (now Pune), was a perfect example. In all, 2,376 runs were scored for the loss of 38 wickets.
Day One: Mantri and Merchant dominate
KC Ibrahim, captain of the mighty Bombay team, won the toss on a placid track and did what any sensible captain would have done — bat first. The Maharashtra seamers could not break through the Bombay opening partnership, and Ibrahim and Madhav Mantri scored runs at will.
Sensing the urgency, Yeshwant Gokhale, the Maharashtra captain, brought on his two leg-spinners, Dattatraya Chaudhari and Sayajirao Dhanawade. Dhanawade put a successful rein on the scoring-rate. Ibrahim was dropped by Madhusudan Rege at first slip on 15.
Of the two, Mantri was particularly harsh. His first fifty came up in 70 minutes, and included as many as ten fours. Soon afterwards, Bombay reached 100 in 91 minutes. Dhanawade struck twice, Bombay lost Ibrahim and Patrick Dickinson in quick succession, and slipped from 101 for no loss to 107 for two.
That was the last bit of joy for the Maharashtra bowlers for some time. There was no respite, as Mantri and Uday Merchant — younger brother of the legendary Vijay Merchant — piled on runs. Merchant began with two boundaries off Dhanawade, and was off. Bombay reached 144 for two at lunch.
Bombay continues with their domination after lunch. Gokhale shuffled his bowlers around, but Mantri and Merchant were relentless, and scored runs at will, benefitting from the atrocious fielding of the Maharashtra side. Mantri soon reached his hundred in 144 minutes with an astonishing 19 boundaries, and the team’s 200 came up in 167 minutes. Mantri went past his First-Class career-best of 117, and soon reached a thousand runs in Ranji Trophy; the new ball was taken at 212 for two, but Mantri carried on with the slaughter. He reached his 150 in 210 minutes with 26 fours, and Bombay were 310 for two at tea.
Merchant reached a well-compiled hundred in 158 minutes with 14 fours. Mantri reached his 200 in 281 minutes with 36 fours, but fell to Chaudhari on the same score, much to the jubilation of the sparse home crowd. Mantri had batted for 285 minutes, and the partnership was worth exactly 250. This brought a 22-year-old youth called Polly Umrigar to the crease. Bombay ended at 366 for three with Merchant on 107.
Day Two: Maharashtra in trouble after Bombay declare
Umrigar looked confident from the onset and began to play his strokes. He began with a boundary off Sharad Deodhar — son of DB Deodhar — and Merchant followed suit with another off Chaudhary. As Merchant played the role of a sheet anchor, Umrigar began to pile up the runs. The 400 came up in 325 minutes, and Umrigar raced to his fifty in no time. Gokhale took the third new ball with the score on 413 for three, and brought on himself when the score was 426 for three in what turned out to be a master-stroke.
Just when it seemed that the partnership would run away with it, Gokhale had Merchant caught behind. He had scored 143 in 257 minutes with 18 fours. Gokhale had the adventurous Khandu Rangnekar stumped the very next ball, and Bombay were 433 for five.
Dattu Phadkar, that boisterous all-rounder, walked out to join the serene Umrigar. Umrigar did not last, though, after reaching his fifty in 90 minutes with four fours. He tried to play one shot too many, and was bowled by Dhanwade for 57. At 462 for six, Maharashtra had probably fancied a chance, more so because the pitch was still playing well, and they had a formidable batting line-up.
Bombay were 498 for six at lunch. Phadkar played aggressively; he cut, pulled, and drove with panache; he added 59 with Madhav Dalvi and 29 more with Gulabrai Ramchand. After Ramchand’s dismissal at 553 for eight, the innings seemed to be folding, but then Madan Raiji walked out to provide Phadkar with the support he required.
Phadkar and Raiji (who reached his 1,000 runs in First-Class cricket) added fifty in 27 minutes. Phadkar, who had taken 98 balls for his fifty, reached his second fifty in just 34 balls. He carried on, bringing up his 2,000 runs in First-Class cricket. The fourth new ball, taken at 613 for eight, could not deter his vehement butchery, and when he finally fell for 131 (including 18 boundaries), the pair had added 95 runs in 52 minutes. Raiji then departed in the last over before tea, and Bombay had managed to score 651.
Gokhale had picked up a surprising four for 35, and it was a wonder that he did not bowl more. Dhanawade and Chaudhari had three wickets apiece. Interestingly, Gokhale had never taken a First-Class wicket before.
For Maharashtra, Sadashiv Palsule began solidly on his First-Class debut, hitting Umrigar for two consecutive fours in the fourth over of the innings. They reached 20 in 20 minutes. With the score on 31, Ibrahim replaced Umrigar with the left-arm spin of Keki Tarapore. He struck immediately, having Kamal Bhandarkar caught behind, and a run later, Sham Joshi was bowled by Ramchand, who had replaced Phadkar at the other end. Maharashtra ended the day at 34 for two. In the dying moments of the day, Umrigar was hit by a ball on his face, and had to leave the field.
Day Three: Maharashtra fight back
Maharashtra lost Palsule early on Day Three, his leg-stump uprooted by Phadkar in the last ball of his second over. Rege walked out to join Manohar Datar at a hopeless 36 for three, and the two settled down, playing more sensibly than their predecessors. They added 50 in 85 minutes, and did not look like they would be separated anytime soon.
Datar was shaky to begin with, but soon played some spectacular drives, mostly through the off-side. Rege, on the other hand, took his risks, and was not hesitant to use his feet, even against Tarapore. The 100 came up in 140 minutes and, soon, Rege beat Datar to the 50-mark, reaching there in 97 minutes with four fours. Lunch was taken at 127 for three.
The batsmen saw off the initial overs of the second session, and began to plunder runs. The 200 came up in 237 minutes, and the batsmen accelerated even more. Rege hit three consecutive fours off Dickinson to go past his Ranji Trophy highest of 93, and to bring up his hundred — a chanceless, counterattacking one in 182 minutes with 11 boundaries. The partnership beat the clock, and the two of them had put on 200 in 192 minutes.
Not to be left behind, Datar soon reached his hundred in 232 minutes, and the 250 of the partnership came up in 249 minutes. Fifteen minutes before close of play, though, as Tarapore was bowling over-the-wicket, Rege tried to pad a ball away: the ball hit his pad, and rolled on to hit the stumps. Rege had scored 133, and along with Datar, had added 256 in 261 minutes.
Bhausaheb Nimbalkar walked out. Earlier in the season, Nimbalkar had scored 443 not out against Kathiawar at the same venue, and had to stop only because Thakore Saheb of Rajkot, the opposition captain, had conceded the match. It still remains the highest First-Class score by an Indian. Maharashtra were 308 at stumps.
Day Four: Bombay bat again
The pitch held firm on the fourth day as well. Maharashtra received an early setback, though, Nimbalkar was stumped off Tarapore. Deodhar walked out, and promptly hit Tarapore for a boundary. Thereafter, the Bombay bowlers put a firm rein on Maharashtra, and they finally reached the 350-mark in 405 minutes.
Datar’s 361-minute vigilance finally ended when Tarapore snared him, caught in the leg-trap by Raiji. Datar had scored 143 with 16 fours, and Maharashtra were 361 for 6. Five runs later, Gokhale attempted an ugly hoick off Tarapore, and was clean bowled. Deodhar then fell to Tarapore’s leg-trap — Rangnekar taking the catch this time. Nana Joshi went the same way, giving Tarapore his sixth wicket, giving a catch to Merchant. Maharashtra were 387 for nine.
Twenty runs later, Dhanawade tried to loft Phadkar, but hit straight to Merchant at mid-off. Maharashtra folded for 407 (they were 294 for three at one time), Phadkar took three wickets, and Tarapore finished with figures of 64-21-119-6 as lunch was taken.
During lunch, news arrived that Umrigar had been ruled out of the match. Bombay, however, were still strong favourites, having acquired a lead of 244 runs, and Ibrahim decided to bat again. Gokhale opened bowling this time, and had Ibrahim dropped by Datar at first-slip in his first over.
Mantri was off the mark with a brace off Nimbalkar from the other end. The fifth ball, however, was a late inswinger that crashed into his middle-stump. The dangerous Rangnekar was promoted, and he scored 36 out of the 50-run partnership, which came up in 34 minutes.
Gokhale brought on Chaudhari, and Rangnekar greeted him with two brilliant boundaries to reach a 61-minute 50 with seven fours. Runs kept coming, and the 100-partnership came up in an alarming 62 minutes. Gokhale brought Nimbalkar on, and Rangnekar hit him for two consecutive boundaries. Ibrahim, meanwhile, brought up a dour 50 in 115 minutes with five fours.
In pursuit of quick runs, Rangnekar was stumped off Chaudhari for 94 in 161 minutes. Tea was taken with that dismissal, and Bombay were 165 for two. With the score on 181, Dhanawade had Ibrahim caught behind. The Bombay captain had scored 59 in 121 minutes with six fours. Merchant and Phadkar carried on with the good work, and Bombay ended the day at 255 for three, 499 runs ahead.
Day Five: The carnage continues
For whatever reason, Merchant and Phadkar decided to play safe on Day Five, adding a mere 48 runs in the first hour of play. Both passed their fifties, the 300 came up in 222 minutes, but the batsmen were still reluctant to play their strokes. However, things changed when Bombay reached 350.
Phadkar began the carnage by hitting Nimbalkar for five fours and a huge, straight six in two overs, and caught up with Merchant in the race for their hundreds. Both batsmen had scored a hundred in the first innings, and they were keen on being the first to reach their second ton of the match.
Merchant reached there first, in 147 minutes with 14 fours. Phadkar soon joined him – in 143 minutes with 11 fours and a six, and the 201 of the partnership came up in 136 minutes. Phadkar soon went past Merchant, and at lunch Bombay were 437 for three, 681 runs ahead.
In the process, Merchant and Phadkar became the sixth and seventh batsmen respectively to score two hundreds in a Ranji Trophy match after SM Kadri, Vijay Hazare, Mushtaq Ali, DB Deodhar, and Hemu Adhikari. Phadkar also went past his First-Class career best of 143.
Maharashtra took the second new ball just after lunch, and found immediate results. Gokhale removed Phadkar first; he was caught by Rege at cover for a 180-minute 160 with 19 fours and a six. The two had added 302. Soon afterwards, Merchant was stumped off Chaudhari for 156 in 238 minutes with 23 fours.
Dickinson joined Dalvi at 518 for five. He hit a quickfire 40 in a 53-run partnership with six fours and a six before falling to Rege, and Dalvi followed suit, getting hit-wicket to Chaudhari for 43 attempting a pull with the score on 627 for seven. Raiji and Ramchand played out time, the former reaching his fifty, and at stumps Bombay were 672 for seven, a mere 916 runs ahead.
Day Six: Maharashtra begin hopeless battle
Ibrahim did not declare overnight. Raiji and Ramchand slogged brutally from the very first ball, and the two added 42 in 17 minutes on the sixth morning before Raiji was stumped off Chaudhari. With Umrigar unavailable, Ibrahim declared the innings closed at 714 for eight, asking Maharashtra to score 959 runs for a Utopian victory. Chaudhari finished with figures of four for 210.
Bhandarkar and Palsule, though, looked rather unperturbed, and batted quite well to bring up 50 in 55 minutes. Maharashtra went to lunch at 83 for no loss. However, immediately after lunch, Ramchand claimed Bhandarkar for 47, caught in the slips by Rangnekar.
Rege, promoted at three, got off his account with four fours. 100 came up in 98 minutes, and Palsule soon brought up his fifty in 122 minutes with eight fours. Rege slowed down a bit, but then hit Phadkar for three consecutive boundaries to bring up his half-century in 48 minutes.
Tarapore, the Bombay hero of the first innings, faced some severe punishment in the hands of Rege on the sixth afternoon. The first hour after lunch yielded 106 runs, of which 75 were scored by Rege. He was dropped on 86 when Mantri dropped a sitter off Phadkar, and was unbeaten on 98 as Maharashtra went to tea at 231 for one.
Just like the lunch interval, there was a wicket after tea as well. Rege, after being the eighth player (the third in the match) to score two hundreds in a Ranji Trophy match, was caught behind off Phadkar for a 124-minute 100 including 14 fours. Rege’s hundred was the eighth of the match — also another record — going past the seven set in 1946 when Holkar had scored six hundreds and Mysore one.
Nimbalkar failed again, though not before he reached 2,000 runs in the Ranji Trophy, and Maharashtra ended the day at 273 for three with Palsule six short of a well-deserved hundred and Deodhar new to the crease. They still needed 686 for a victory.
Day Seven: Maharashtra battle in vain
Maharashtra had an early setback when Phadkar had Palsule caught by Rangnekar at silly mid-on. Palsule had scored a fighting 97 off 208 minutes with 14 fours, and the score was 285 for 4. Datar came in to play some spectacular strokes, and when Maharashtra reached 317 for four, the match aggregate read 2,079 for 32 wickets — going past the existing record of 2,078 runs for 40 wickets scored in the 1944-45 Ranji Trophy final between Bombay and Holkar.
Datar brought up his fifty in 29 minutes, and along with Deodhar, added 100 runs in 60 minutes with some aggressive intent. Ibrahim tried Tarapore, but Datar hit him for three boundaries. No one seemed to be even remotely close to breaking through, and the duo continued playing amidst raucous cheer from the crowd. Deodhar reached his 50 in 88 balls, and Maharashtra’s 400 came up in 339 minutes. They were 446 for four at lunch.
Just like the three previous intervals, the lunch interval produced another wicket. In the first over after lunch, Tarapore managed to get past Datar’s defense and hit the stumps. Datar had scored 86 in 108 minutes, and the partnership had been worth 162. Gokhale walked out, and was run out soon, trying a single he could easily have avoided.
Deodhar then went past his previous First-Class best of 93. As the new ball was taken, Deodhar drove Phadkar to the cover fence for a boundary to reach his hundred in 189 minutes with nine boundaries. He was the ninth batsman to register a hundred in the match. Sham Joshi played well too, and 550 came up in 470 minutes.
Just before tea, Sham Joshi brought up his fifty in 83 minutes with five fours, and Maharashtra left for tea at 579 for six. Once again, the break proved fatal and Tarapore snared Sham Joshi, clean bowled for 53, soon after tea. Chaudhari was stumped off Tarapore just after the 600 came up, and Deodhar was last out (Nana Joshi did not bat), clean bowled by Phadkar for 146.
Bombay, thus, made it to the final. The match had yielded a total of 2,376 runs for the loss of 37 wickets.
Bombay 651 (Madhav Mantri 200, Uday Merchant 143, Dattu Phadkar 131; Yeshwant Gokhale 4 for 35, Dattatraya Chaudhari 3 for 149, Sayajirao Dhanawade 3 for 195) and 714 for 8 declared (Dattu Phadkar 160, Uday Merchant 156, Khandu Rangnekar 94, Madan Raiji 75, KC Ibrahim 59; Dattatraya Chaudhari 4 for 210) beat Maharashtra 407 (Manohar Datar 143, Madhusudan Rege 133; Keki Tarapore 6 for 119, Dattu Phadkar 3 for 142) and 604 (Sharad Deodhar 146, Madhusudan Rege 100, Sadashiv Palsule 97, Manohar Datar 86, Sham Joshi 57; Dattu Phadkar 3 for 178, Keki Tarapore 3 for 180) by 354 runs.
(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ovshake and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)
First Published: March 11, 2013, 3:05 pm