Ajit Agarkar has a fabulous record in Ranji Trophy. He has played in the tournament for 17 seasons; he’s played in six finals and won all six.
“Probably with the exception of the final against Hyderabad in 1999-2000, all finals were competitive, starting with the day/night final against Delhi at Gwalior in 1996-97. In terms of intensity, the final against Karnataka at Mysore in 2009-10 was very good.
“But this is the first season I am the captain and probably feeling the pressure more. It will be there till the game starts and thereafter you are in control of the game. The last two years were tough for Mumbai. But I am feeling good now,’’ Agarkar told The Hindu on Wednesday, three days before Mumbai’s 44th final at the Wankhede Stadium.
Excerpts from an interview:
Question: Your comments on the new format with nine teams in three groups?
Answer: Previously Mumbai was in the Elite group and we played seven matches. So it was an additional match this season which actually worked well for us. It made a massive difference because we had fallen back in the group. But only three days gap between the matches made it tough. Five-day gap is a luxury, but four days would be ideal. With just three days gap the body gets tired and quality of the game suffers.
It is much more difficult for a bowler who bowls 35 to 40 overs in a match. Players pick up some niggle or the other and miss out on games; this is tough on youngsters. There are niggles from which a player recovers in 4 to 5 days. The need for 4/5 days gap was mentioned at the captain’s meeting. But all said and done one extra game was great for us; we won a game (Madhya Pradesh) and took the first innings lead (Gujarat). For some teams (who were in the Plate group until last year) it was three extra games, which is again great.
The BCCI announced that it was in favour of sporting pitches. But do home associations still make wickets to meet their team requirements?
They do. But the pitch at Indore was a great wicket and we saw a great result. Madhya Pradesh was ahead of us in the league and they need not have prepared a sporting pitch, but they made a wicket for good cricket. Even the wicket at the CCI (Brabourne Stadium) for the match against Bengal was very good. It’s difficult to get such wickets in all eight league games, but it would be good enough if the associations show intent to make a true track.
We asked the MCA to prepare sporting tracks and they tried. It was not as good as we are used to or liked, but they showed the intent. Teams do not want to lag behind after the first few games and they prefer to play on flat wickets which defeat the purpose of good quality cricket. Six points for a win was tricky, but it worked well for us in the end.
Playing for Mumbai as a player and as captain?
The experience of having played for many years and with some of the giants helped me. I have learned a lot from Sanjay Manjrekar, one of the best captains I have played under. I enjoyed a good rapport with all the players. The back injury to Powar was a big blow for the team. Dhawal deserves a look in at the highest level. He has added speed. Shardul Thakur and Javed Khan have impressed. Aditya Tare (wk-batsman) has been superb, but the man of the season for us has to be Abhishek Nayar. Hope all of us have one more good game. Saurashtra is a good team though.
The quality of play brought in by Jaffer, Tendulkar and Zaheer Khan?
The opposition is worried when Jaffer is batting; it’s not just his batting, he gets big scores. Tendulkar’s presence makes a big difference in the dressing room; I know him for many years and he’s always been like a 16-year-old. He came at the right time for the team, especially for the new players. Zak pushed himself to play against Gujarat and bowled a terrific spell against MP though he was not 100 per cent feeling good.