Mumbai players are known to take immense pride in performing for the State. The lion crest seems to motivate them. Not that the players of other States don’t take pride in performing for their respective States but many a time sheer overconfidence has made teams lose the final or league matches to Mumbai from winning positions.
Tamil Nadu has been the worst sufferer. On one occasion, in the 1968 final at the Brabourne Stadium, a clean catch at mid-on was disallowed because the fielder didn’t appeal and Ashok Mankad went on to score a match-winning 112.
Five Mumbai players — Wadekar, Sardesai, Ashok Mankad, Gavaskar and Solkar — were in the 1971 Indian team on the West Indies tour. The young Mumbai side led by collegian Sudhir Naik was pitted against a strong Maharashtra led by the wily Chandu Borde. Things were going Maharashtra’s way but two brilliant catches and Mumbai won the final.
In 1973 at Chepauk, the track ideally suited V.V. Kumar and Venkatraghavan. At the end of the first day, Michael Dalvi and Abdul Jabbar put Tamil Nadu in a commanding position with 62 for two in reply to Mumbai’s 151. The pitch seemed to have settled down nicely and both Dalvi and Jabbar faced Shivalkar confidently.
Kalyanasundaram who was to bat at No. 11 recounts: “Next morning, I was sitting in casual clothes next to VV who was to bat at No. 10. Seeing the first ball of Shivalkar turn square and bounce, he asked me to change to whites. ‘Get ready, both of us will be there in the middle in less than an hour.”
The next 45 minutes saw Tamil Nadu lose eight wickets for the addition of only 18 runs. Shivalkar had figures of eight for 18. That match was over in two days and one ball.
Try shutting them up as tightly as you can but just a little opportunity, a little breathing space and Mumbai would create a cyclone out of it. The biggest advantage Mumbai cricketers have is that on an average they play 40 to 50 inter-club and inter-office matches in a season.
Having travelled in public transport for two hours, no teenager would need to be told not to loft the ball. At 12, they are taught to play tough cricket. They are trained to judge and deal with situations by playing matches every day in the summer. Fewer nets and more matches is the formula.
To grind the bowlers is like an instinct. They are almost born with it. Wasim Jaffer did it all his life and his 15-year-old nephew Arman (scored 290 in the under-16 final against Delhi) who bats like him has begun to do it. Then there is the 14-year-old Prithvi Shaw who catches the first train at 4.30 a.m. from the last suburban station Virar to reach the city at 6.30 for practice. He has scored 4000 runs in three years.
This khaddos approach and everlasting perseverance has given Mumbai cricket the name it has today. But there remains a looming question mark on one aspect. Where are the bowlers? After all the training, experience and brilliance, Mumbai hasn’t been able to produce bowlers of international quality. It still needs the services of Zaheer Khan and has no replacements for an aging Agarkar.
The state of bowling needs attention. How long the 40-times Ranji champion will win without effective bowlers is something thesState association has to think about.