Parthiv Patel and Gujarat boys celebrating with the Ranji Trophy. Photo: Chinmay Jawalekar
Parthiv Patel and Gujarat boys celebrating with the Ranji Trophy. Photo: Chinmay Jawalekar

When Mumbai beat Tamil Nadu (quite easily, if I may add) in the semi-final last week, a meme spread across Facebook. Obviously, I got tagged, for I have somehow acquired the image of being a Ranji Trophy fan over decades. At least two people I know forwarded me the same meme on WhatsApp. The message was on the line of Ranji Trophy is a cricket tournament played by Indian states to decide who will take on Mumbai in the final . Of course, it was not an exaggeration: if a team wins over half the editions of a tournament over a period spanning more than eight decades, the accolades are certainly justified.

There exists an anti-Mumbai clan in Indian domestic cricket, one that celebrates every time Mumbai gets eliminated from a Ranji Trophy tournament. They have a reason to, because Mumbai has been as many titles as all other sides combined. In other words, they have reduced Ranji Trophy to a contest between themselves and the best of other sides.

The anti-Mumbai clan are a curious sort. They may or may not staunch supporters of a particular Ranji Trophy side. Once their own side gets eliminated they support anyone barring Mumbai. Of course, this has not happened half the time in history, which makes their hunger even more justified.

Despite Bombay s early success stories, the clan probably had its roots somewhere during Bombay s famous 15-season run that includes an entire decade, the 1960s. Of course, I was not born, but if you ask me about the origin, I would probably place my bet on the sixth decade of the last century.

Make no mistake: they have utmost respect for Mumbai cricket. But as long as Mumbai are alive in the tournament (in other words, every alternate year) they are not going to rest till they get eliminated. There is none of that Mumbai-losing-is-good-for-the-tournament nonsense for them: Mumbai getting knocked out of Ranji Trophy brings pure, unadulterated joy to non-Mumbaikars.

Face the facts: every non-Mumbaikar loves to see Mumbai lose in the Ranji Trophy. He can be from Bengal, who have won two Trophies and are rather proud of that; or from Karnataka or Delhi, teams that have fought tooth-and-nails with Mumbai since the 1970s with mixed results; from Assam, for whom qualifying for the knockouts is a huge achievement; or Goa, whose Ranji season mainly involves trying to qualify or, once they do that, avoid relegation.

Do I belong to the clan? I can give you a hint: I was born and brought up outside the city.

The tale of a shoe

You cannot blame historians if they mention Ajit Wadekar s new shoe in the list of most significant events of Ranji Trophy. Karnataka were bowled out for 385 in the Ranji semi-final of 1973-74.

It was d j vu all over again. Captain Wadekar, the man who had smashed 323 in the 1967-68 semi-final against the same side (though they played under the name of Mysore at that point) was batting serenely, with Ashok Mankad for company. The score read 198 for 2.

Then Mankad played EAS Prasanna to point. Wadekar called for a single just as Sudhakar Rao approached the ball. Mankad sent him back in time. Wadekar turned. There was ample time, more so because if the throw was off target, Prasanna was not athletic enough to run, collect, and outdo Wadekar.

But Wadekar slipped. By the time he got up it was too late. He fell marginally short.

He would later blame it on his new rubber-soled shoes. Had Karnataka known then, they would have sent him a lifetime supply of shoes for authoring that turning point in the match, Suresh Menon wrote years later.

And an entire nation cheered (outside Bombay, that is) for All India Radio was there for Bombay had won the coveted title for fifteen consecutive years.

Prasanna was aware of what has just happened. He knew it might not happen anytime soon. He knew if he did not seize this opportunity it might not happen again.

Months before the match, Prasanna had led Rest of India to a win-on-first-innings-lead over Bombay thanks to a Gopal Bose s 170. Bhagwat Chandrasekhar had bowled brilliantly, as had Prasanna himself. In fact, they had made Bombay follow-on. He knew it could be done.

He also knew that Karnataka boasted of the most dangerous spin twins in Indian domestic cricket. The two men took out the wickets one by one, Prasanna finishing with 5 wickets and Chandra with 4. Bombay were bowled out for 307, and Karnataka ensured there was no collapse.

The biggest danger was out of the way. Prasanna took 9 wickets in the final (against Rajasthan) and Chandra 5, and Karnataka lifted their first title.

Three thousand men KSCA President M Chinnaswamy included greeted the winners at the station on April 1 (ironically, Wadekar s birthday) when they returned. They dined with the Chief Minister that night, and were awarded hold your breath a thousand rupees each.

Six seasons later Bishan Singh Bedi s Delhi beat Sunil Gavaskar s Bombay in the final. Bedi himself took 8 wickets in the match and Kirti Azad 6, and Mohinder Amarnath and Azad both scored hundreds.

Three seasons later Brijesh Patel led Karnataka to another final win over Bombay, led by Mankad this time. Up against 534, Karnataka were reduced to 293 for 6 but there was still some life left in the match. Jayasoorya Abhiram, Ranjit Khanwilkar, and Bharamiah Vijayakrishna forgotten men all took them one run past Bombay; though 16 penalty runs were added to the Karnataka total due to slow over rates.

But Bombay did not give up easily, even after ending the penultimate day on 7 for 2. Sandeep Patil blasted an unbeaten 121 from 96 balls, and Bombay raced to 193 for 4 (add 20 penalty runs to that) in a mere 27 overs. Karnataka did not go for target of 196, and finished on 179 for 5.

Bombay were still the strongest side they would win 6 out of 11 editions after Wadekar slipped but that aura of invincibility was gone.

A brief history of time

Back in 1950-51, CK Nayudu was the first captain to lead a team to a win against Bombay in a Ranji Trophy final. Bombay was led by KC Ibrahim, thus making it a curious occasion when both finalist captains were known by their initials.

Mushtaq Ali s first-innings 187 and Chandu Sarwate s second-innings 234 had set up the stage for Holkar. The rest was done by Hiralal Gaekwad and Arjun Naidu. At that stage Bombay held 4 of the 13 titles, but Maharashtra, Nawanagar (now Saurashtra), and Baroda all had 2 each, while Holkar won their second title with the match in question.

They were no longer invincible.

The other Colonel

The last time they lost a Ranji Trophy was 26 seasons back. They called the city Bombay at that time. Just like today, they were up against a side playing their Ranji Trophy final for the second time, after losing the first.

Bombay had to score 355. A little more than two sessions remained, which meant they had to score at over 6 against Kapil Dev and Chetan Sharma. Bombay were reduced to 34 for 3.

Then arrived a boy called Sachin Tendulkar. So brutal was the onslaught that the Kapil had no option but to go on the defensive. The fielders, no longer on the prowl, were sent back to man the fence.

Tendulkar s 96 took a mere 75 balls in a stand of 134. He hit 5 sixes, the most outrageous being a flat-batted one that was hit so hard that it barely lost height when it crashed on to the stands.

Vinod Kambli contributed. At 249 for 5 the tables had almost turned, but there was no way Haryana were going to give up. Dilip Vengsarkar knew the onus was on him, but he could do little as Bombay slumped to 305 for 9.

There were five balls left in that over from Yogesh Bhandari but Vengsarkar was on strike. He hit 3 sixes and 2 fours.

Not only did Vengsarkar get runs, he also shielded Abey Kuruvilla, the enormous debutant Mumbai had plucked out of nowhere for the final. Vengsarkar was also battling cramps. Lalchand Rajput had been running for him.

The target came down to a mere 3. There were 15 balls left. Chetan hurled the ball as fast as he could. Kuruvilla somehow managed to get bat. By the time Amarjeet Kaypee picked up the ball at fine-leg, Rajput was already halfway down but the debutant, basics of running between the wickets all forgotten was caught staring at the ball. He fell short of the throw.

And Vengsarkar slumped at square-leg. Those bloodshot eyes were clear despite the average picture quality of the Doordarshan days. Even the entire anti-Bombay clan spread across the nooks and corners of the enormity of India forgot to celebrate.

Bombay have not lost since then till today, that is.

Thus, when Parthiv Patel joined an elite quintet that featured Nayudu, Bedi, Brijesh, and Kapil, an entire nation celebrated again.