From Gavaskar to Tendulkar, Mumbai is India's perennial breeding ground for producing cricketing stalwarts
Indian cricket which came into the Test fold in 1932 has come a long way carving out a distinct identity of its own in international cricket. Over the years, Indian cricket has evolved from being challengers to one of the formidable sides in red ball cricket. India has produced some of finest exponents of game. Be it Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Anil Kumble or 'Master Blaster' Sachin Tendulkar who broke many a records with his prolific run scoring, Indian cricket greats certainly rank among the best of all time.Since making its debut in the Test arena in 1932, 293 cricketers have played in the Whites for Team India. Some were one match wonders and a majority showed flashes of brilliance but dint last long enough to meet the grueling demands of Test cricket. However only a select few went onto became greatest of the game, serving Indian cricket with distinction by playing more than 50 Tests.
If one were to analyse where majority of the Indian cricket stars came from, they predominately came from Maharashtra and played most of their domestic cricket for traditional heavyweights Mumbai. Mumbai has been the breeding ground for producing batting stalwarts for many years. The giants of India's domestic cricket who boast of winning a record 41 Ranji trophy titles have certainly been a cut above the rest in regularly churning out great cricketers who have gone onto achieve glorious heights.
Vijay Merchant and Vijay Manjrekar were the first batting maestros to come out of the Mumbai staples. Merchant was a run-scoring machine in first-class cricket and Manjrekar was regarded as one of the finest stroke makers of his era.
Merchant’s staggering first-class average of 71 is only second to Sir Don Bradman. Polly Umrigar and Dilip Sardesai were India’s front-line Test batsman during the 50 and 60s. In the 60s, Farokh Engineer was a free-flowing and aggressive wicket-keeper batsman who was India's frontline gloveman. However, Mumbai’s first major cricketing superstar came in the form of Sunil Gavaskar, who is rated as one of the best test openers of all time.
The ‘Little Master’ Gavaskar stood tall against the fearsome Windies and English pace bowlers in their prime and scored runs heavily against them, a feat some only dream of. Sunny’s near to flawless technique and solid defence to grind bowlers and occupy the crease for long periods made him a master class.
Gavaskar stood like a wall between victory and defeat for India at a time when we were struggling to find our feet against the best in Test cricket. Meanwhile, it was another Mumbaikar in Ajit Wadekar under whom India won its first-ever series in West Indies and England. Eknath Solkar, a capable Test batsman was better known for his spectacular fielding and catching ability.
Dilip Vengsarkar was one of India’s most dependable middle-order batsman in the 80s. The 'Colonel' of Indian cricket was a consistent run-getter for India both at home and away. He was one of the few cricketers to score three centuries against England at Lord's.
Ravi Shastri was indeed a very handy all-rounder who chipped in with valuable contributions both with bat and ball. Shastri was brave enough to open the innings in testing conditions against England. Meanwhile, the tall and lanky spinner bowled his left arm spin to scalp over 100 test wickets. Sandip Patil was a dashing strokeplayer who scored runs at a brisk pace playing some enthralling shots.
Then came along a classy stroke maker in Sanjay Manjrekar who was known have a stoic defence and conventional technique. Much like his father Vijay, Sanjay was a master technician equipped to handle quality attacks with ease and comfort.
In 1989, a teen batting prodigy with a proven reputation in domestic cricket debuted against Pakistan. A valiant 59-run knock against a fearsome Pakistan attack at Karachi was followed by centuries against quality Australian and English attacks at Perth and Manchester…The ‘Master Blaster’ had arrived with a bang and was destined to reach loftier heights.
Sachin Tendulkar, God’s greatest gift to Indian cricket also honed his skills with the willow at the Shivaji Park under the tutelage of the much-famed coach Ramakant Archrekar. Indian cricket became synonymous with Sachin as he dominated the batting charts scoring heaps of runs and raking up centuries, making him the highest ever run-getter in both Test and ODI cricket. One can’t forget Sachin’s childhood friend and talismanic southpaw Vinod Kambli who made a sensational entry in Test cricket.
Kambli’s two successive double hundreds catapulted him to be the next big star in the making but unfortunately, the talented left hander’s technical shortcomings against short pitch deliveries made him vulnerable and he went into oblivion rather soon. Pravin Amre, a centurion on debut promised a lot but could not handle the grind of Test cricket. Wasim Jaffer, a prolific run-scorer in Ranji Trophy opened the innings for India achieving moderate success, scoring some eye-catching tons on overseas tours.
Zaheer Khan, India’s greatest left-arm seamer also plied his trade for Mumbai at the domestic level…Khan spearheaded the Indian pace attack for almost a decade and picked up over 300 wickets..’Zak’ honed his skills at the county level and turned into a lethal seam bowler relying both on pace and seam movement.
In the current Indian team, Ajinkya Rahane is hailed as one of a most accomplished batsman in Test cricket. Rahane’s sound technique and calm demeanour has turned him into one of India’s dependable batsman in overseas conditions. He has produced his best knocks on hostile wickets in bowling friendly seam tracks, combining attack with defence in his exquisite stroke play.
Besides this never-ending list of Test stalwarts, Mumbai has also produced a spree of one-day international specialists who had of success in white ball cricket. Rohit Sharma is one of the most destructive openers in ODIs. Rohit’s wide armoury of shots can make any attack look ordinary. Rohit’s ability to hit mammoth hundreds sets him apart from the rest. We ought not to forget Ajit Agarkar who was an outright wicket-taker in the limited overs arena…The wiry seamer bowled with a lot of aggression and was pretty skiddy with his quick arm action. Agarkar picked up a plethora of wickets and bowled some match winning spells in ODIs.
Domestic giants like Jatin Pranjpe, Nilesh Kulkarni, Sairaj Bahutule, Abey Kuruvilla, Salil Ankola, Sameer Dighe, Romesh Powar and Dhawal Kulkarni who led the run scoring and wicket-taking charts in the domestic circles also made sporadic appearances for Team India in both forms of the game.
With the advent of the new millennium, cricket blossomed to other parts of the country and success stories like MS Dhoni, Irfan Pathan, Suresh Raina and Ravindra Jadeja came from the smaller towns of India. However, the Indian team still has a decent representation with Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane.
Prithvi Shaw has impressed one and all with his run-scoring prowess at the first class level. The teen batting sensation rightfully got a Test call-up after his run-scoring exploits at the Under 19 level, Ranji and Duleep Trophy. He grabbed his opportunity with both hands scoring a breezy century on debut against West Indies at Rajkot.
Early signs show the immensely talented Shaw to have all the ingredients to be the likely heir apparent to Mumbai's great batting legacy passed on by Gavaskar, Vengsarkar, Sachin, Rohit and Rahane. Shaw has tremendous potential with the willow and he is being well groomed under the wings of a great mentor in Rahul Dravid. So there could be yet another cricketing stalwart coming from Mumbai who could be the future of Indian batting in Test cricket.
Mumbai cricketers who played more than 30 Tests for India
Sachin Tendulkar 200
Sunil Gavaskar 134
Dilip Vengsarkar 116
Zaheer Khan 92
Ravi Shastri 80
Polly Umrigar 59
Vijay Manjrekar 55
Ajinkya Rahane 51
Farokh Engineer 46
Karsan Ghavri 39
Sanjay Manjrekar 37
Ajit Wadekar 37
Dilip Sardesai 30
Wasim Jaffer 30
* Chandu Borde and Subhash Gupte also played a major part of their domestic cricket for Mumbai
Rohit Sharma 188
Ajit Agarkar 191
Sandip Patil 45
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