Better late than never: Mumbai play 'khadoos' to save 500th Ranji tie
For all the talk about their 500th Ranji Trophy match, Mumbai could not have had a more ordinary advertisement at the Wankhede. It could be safely concluded, looking at the proceedings on the first three days of the game, that neither had the team managed to absorb the pressure of an iconic match - if at all there was any - nor did the supporters show the least bit of support for their ''khadoos" army. Less than 500 spectators - a rough estimate, official numbers at the ground weren't accessible - witnessed a somewhat underwhelming performance by the 41-time Ranji champions, at least on the first three days.
To be bundled out for 171 by two medium pacers with a combined experience of nine first-class matches when you have in your midst India's Test vice-captain, a consistent performer who has been scoring runs by the heap for the past three seasons, and a newbie who has developed a fascination for centuries speaks about the disappointing show that Mumbai put on in their first innings.
Atit Sheth and Lukman Meriwala picked up five wickets each to wrap a Mumbai lineup that contained Ajinkya Rahane, Shreyas Iyer and Prithvi Shaw in addition to experienced players like Siddhesh Lad, Abhishek Nayar, and Suryakumar Yadav. To top this, Baroda put up their highest Ranji total against Mumbai - their second-highest overall - to bury the hosts under a 404-run rubble. Opener Akshay Waghmode (138) and middle-order bat Swapnil Singh (career-best 164) were the men behind Baroda's renaissance.
By the end of the third day's play, Mumbai were staring at an innings defeat - in itself a rarity in Ranji Trophy cricket - precariously placed at 102/4. Things went from bad to worse on the final morning as their best bat, who was the man most suitable to bail them out of such situations, Rahane, was dismissed in the first session for a 134-ball 45. His team was five down for 125, still needing 279 runs to make Baroda bat again. Making them bat again was not the question. The question was of survival; whether in the name of their legacy of being stubborn enough to deny victory to the opposition they could bat out a little over two sessions and save the game.
Padmakar Shivalkar, perhaps the bowling equivalent of Amol Mazumdar - not a comparison by any means - in terms of being unlucky enough to not be picked for India despite having a stellar first-class record (589 wickets in 124 first-class matches), says this about the late great Ashok Mankad - his captain at Mumbai: "Ashok Mankad would deny you a win at all costs. His eye and mind would not miss much. My best memories of his captaincy came in the Times Shield. Ashok was Mafatlals's captain while I was playing for Tata Sports Club. Each time I played against him, Ashok made sure to tell his batsmen not to take risks against me, to take it easy against me. Ashok knew that the other bowlers in our team were not as dangerous."
He adds: "Ashok would never talk to me on the field. That was his way of stirring emotions inside me, the opposition's strike bowler. He took the opponent out of the game with his strategy and tactics. He gave that appearance that you are my enemy. There is no friendship, nothing to talk about, no jokes to crack. He was unlike the other successful captains like Ajit [Ajit Wadekar] and Sunil [Sunil Gavaskar]. Ashok was always khadoos."
Mazumdar, the second-highest run-scorer in the history of the tournament, was an antique in his own might. Wasim Jaffer, the highest run-scorer in Ranji history says this about his days when he used to play alongside Mazumdar: "Mumbai had an absolutely miserable start to the 2006-07 season. The first two matches - against Bengal and Punjab - were both draws and we didn't get a single point. Then Hyderabad embarrassed us by inflicting a nine-wicket defeat. I was away on India duty in the league matches but heard about an interesting exchange. While he was shaking hands with an ecstatic opposition, Amol told Vivek Jaisimha, Hyderabad coach, 'See you in the final, if you qualify.' "
"Mumbai needed to win the last three league matches outright to qualify for the knock-outs. Amol made sure the dressing room was totally charged and focused at all times. We beat Gujarat, Rajasthan and Maharashtra, all with a bonus point, to qualify for the semi-finals.
"In the semi-final against Baroda at Moti Bagh, it seemed like they had one foot in the final after we were 0 for 5 in the second innings. We were undeterred and bounced back under Amol's leadership. In the final, Sachin and I got centuries and Zaheer bowled a lovely spell of fast-bowling in a classic against Bengal," he tells ESPNcricnfo.
Mumbai were 0/5, with both Jaffer and Mazumdar as well as a young Rohit Sharma back in the hut. That they had a 91-run lead helped their cause but at 91/5, their state wasn't much different from what it was against the same opponent in their marquee 500th game. What followed then and what followed on Sunday (November 12) wasn't much dissimilar either. It was with all of their might and more than the stubborn demeanour they could muster that they managed to tackle these situations.
Back then, it was wicketkeeper-batsman Vinayak Samant who led the staunch defiance against a bowling attack that had Irfan Pathan at his peak. Pathan picked up three wickets in the first innings - accounting for both Mazumdar and Jaffer - and four in the second, two of the top five.
But Samant was resolute. His 66 off 136 balls helped Mumbai reach 145, thereby setting Baroda 237 runs for victory. Perhaps Baroda would have been better off playing Pathan at the Wankhede - their captain until two rounds ago - instead of showing him the doors unceremoniously, with the verdict that team owed its sub-par performance in the season to him.
That left Abhishek Nayar as the only remaining link between the two games. And just like he had picked three wickets in Baroda's second innings to help Mumbai restrict them to 173, he played khadoos in every sense of the word at the Wankhede, braving injuries - he came in to bat at 9 - and scoring 8 runs off 108 balls in a 141-minute long effort of resistance.
The honours were shared, though. Siddhesh Lad batted for nearly four hours and 238 deliveries to take Mumbai to the close of the game, unbeaten on 78. He was helped by vice-captain Suryakumar Yadav, who batted for five hours - beat that? - for his 132-ball 44. The result? Mumbai achieved a stalemate, finishing at 260/7, thereby saving grace and the reputation of being a side that never gives in.
Baroda used nine bowlers in their second essay and captain Deepak Hooda admitted that he was disappointed with their effort in the second innings while asserting that Baroda should have won the game. Swapnil would have drawn consolation in the man of the match award but the bigger picture was that Mumbai, devoid of the glories or the stars of the past, was still a tough nut to crack.
Sandeep Patil, former cricketer and chief national selector, remembers his days playing for Mumbai. Having debuted in 1976, he recalls his first captain, Mankad, telling him: "You have been selected, so make it count and play with the never-say-die attitude."
The legends might have retired, the base of cricketers for India selection - Test cricket at least - may have shifted to the North in Delhi and to the South in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, but the soul that defined Bombay of the yore - the one that would put a price on itself - doesn't seem to have dwindled.