Opinion: Mumbai's decline in the First-class cricket: Nostalgia, Sorrow, and Everything in Between
For many years, the state of Mumbai was known to dominate the Indian first-class cricket. Not long ago, the state of Mumbai had produced some of the finest cricketers who have gone on to represent the national side. Be it the legendary Sunil Gavaskar or the tiger-eyed Dilip Vengsarkar, or the great Sachin Tendulkar, the state of Mumbai ruled the Indian domestic circuit right from the early 1970s up until the early 2000s. As far as the numbers go, Mumbai has won the Ranji Trophy, India’s premier first-class competition, a record 41 times, but of late, the emergence of the cash-rich Indian Premier League is luring the youngsters to play for franchises while ignoring first-class cricket.
What’s Wrong with the Game?
Well, nothing. It’s the mindset that has changed.
In the times of ‘fataafat cricket”, the country’s first-class competitions are lagging behind. Dwindling crowds and lack of frequent cash inflows have led to the demise of first-class cricket in Mumbai. Also, cricketers no longer see first-class cricket as a building block. Nobody has the time and patience to play the 4-day game. Some say it is way too slow for anybody’s liking. Others say that the standard of pitches has declined quite drastically.
A traditionalist such as myself would always choose the pleasures of the 4-day game over the thrills and spills of 20-over cricket, but not everybody in today’s so-called fast-paced world nurtures that thinking. Getting access to easy money and ephemeral fame is what all of us desire these days.
First-Class Cricket No Longer a Ticket to Fame
Twenty 20 is what everybody wants to play. That is because players performing well in the first-class competitions are less likely to get a national call-up, but those performing well in the IPL are likely to get immediate entry into the national side.
On one hand, the likes of Shreyas Iyer and Karun Nair score heavily for their states in the Ranji Trophy but still get sidelined and struggle to break into the national side, while on the other hand, the likes of Rishabh Pant and Jasprit Bumrah storm into the national side on the back of impressive performances in the Indian Premier League. Twenty20 cricket has become a player’s path to success.
The likes of Siddhesh Lad and Akhil Herwadkar have been scoring heavily in the Ranji Trophy season after season but still haven’t been able to break into the national side. Such has been the plight of players scoring runs for Mumbai.
Mumbai’s Dwindling Numbers
Mumbai’s dominance as the country’s cricketing powerhouse has taken a hit in the recent past. The last time the team won the Ranji Trophy was in 2015-2016. Since then, other teams have raised their game and have been giving stiff competition to a state that was once considered the powerhouse of the Indian domestic circuit.
Take the example of teams such as Saurashtra and Rajasthan. Both the teams have been taking giant strides in the domestic circuit. Back in the early 2000s, Mumbai could send Rajasthan and Saurashtra packing within a day, but today these teams are performing way better than Mumbai. As far as the current standings are concerned, Saurashtra has qualified for the knockouts from Group A whereas Rajasthan has qualified for the knockouts after topping the points table in Group C. The team from Mumbai, on the other hand, finds itself eliminated and has just managed to avoid relegation. With the likes of Ajinkya Rahane serving national duties, the youngsters from Mumbai have been unable to carry the team into the knockouts.
There’s Something Missing
A glance at the Mumbai team from the 1970s and the 1980s would throw light on the fact that back in those days, there used to be at least one good player who used to captain the side while inspiring the youngsters to go out there and express themselves. That inspirational figure seems to be missing in Mumbai’s batting line-up at present. Earlier, you had the Gavaskars, the Shastris and the Tendulkars captaining the side, but today you won’t find many senior players coming back into the domestic team and inspiring the youngsters. Almost all the senior players are busy honoring their T20 contracts these days.
A Pinch of Nostalgia and a State of Sorrow
Being a 1990s kid, I can still recall some nail-biting contests wherein Mumbai, having the legendary Sachin Tendulkar in its ranks, decimated the oppositions within a couple of days. The bats used to do the talking and the bowlers used to run berserk with wickets falling like nine pins. Those were the glory days of cricket in Mumbai. Quite sadly, there are gone now, perhaps forever.