We are so much involved with the visiting teams playing in India that hardly have we the time to take note of our own individuals and their performances. The national championship is the heart of Indian cricket. That not much importance is given to it by the established stars is observed but to the credit of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), it has asked all such players to play Ranji Trophy this year.
A few days back, two gentleman all-rounders, Sanjay Bangar and Sairaj Bahutule — after playing two decades of first-class cricket — announced their retirements. Bangar played for Railways whereas Bahutule played for Mumbai, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Vidarbha. Both played with tremendous passion.
Not many are aware how Bahutule fought back from injuries that he sustained in a car accident in which two of his friends died.
He was in coma for several days and had to undergo many operations for multiple fractures. Every time I met him he would be on crutches but would say ‘I will fight back’.
A month before the arrival of Frank Tyson for a bowling scheme, Bahutule requested that he be allowed to bowl in the camp but on the first day of the camp in April 1990, when Tyson asked every trainee to run with him, Bahutule couldn’t run even 20 metres.
He had tears in his eyes but with steel rod inserted in his right thigh, it was impossible for him to run or have a rockback while delivering a ball but he fought back with a key word ‘fight’ every time he would bowl.
Within a year he was in the Mumbai Ranji team. He would sit with Tyson before getting into the nets, work on a particular drill and despite the pain would bowl for a minimum of three hours everyday. One could see his painful expressions after every ball but the key word was pushing this 18-year-old.
At the end of the month and half long camp, he played a tournament and was the Man of the Tournament.
A player who couldn’t run 20 metres as a teenager went on to play 21 seasons of first-class cricket is a testimony to his resolve. In 188 first-class matches he scored 6,176 runs and took 630 wickets.
Sanjay Bangar like Zaheer Khan came down to Mumbai in pursuit of a cricket career and became a hard core Mumbaikar playing for the renowned Shivaji Park Gymkhana. The best part of Bangar was he knew his limitations and not for a moment he forgot those limitations.
A learned cricketer who was known for his astute leadership qualities, his observations were always respected. As one India player said, ‘his observations were relevant and often would help the team in planning a strategy’.
We often hear that the game has become fast and only youngsters should play but watching these two play alongside the youngsters gave the feeling that in a team game you need a couple of players who have the experience of reading the situations and dealing with them. Bangar did that job admirably. In 165 first-class matches he scored 8,349 runs and took 300 wickets
Amol Muzumdar, a contemporary of Bahutule, with five centuries in eight matches, has shown he is still enjoying batting under pressure.
The young Andhra players batting with him must have learnt the nuances of batsmanship. With 11,070 runs from 166 first-class matches, he seems keen in continuing to play first-class cricket.
We must salute all such professionals who are making their presence felt in the Ranji Trophy for weak teams. The BCCI must make use of their experience.