The time has come to write the obituary of one of world cricket’s most celebrated tournaments — the Dr H D Kanga Cricket League. The Mumbai Cricket Association wants to continue with the name of the tournament that will begin in September in a different format, far removed from the monsoon thrust which gave birth to a legacy.
Some reckon the Kanga League has run its course. There are practical problems in running the tournament: Weather, inability to get pitches ready on time for a July start and also the drop in enthusiasm levels of current cricketers, who would prefer spending their Sunday in front of their television sets or check Facebook and Twitter on their smartphones.
The dark question mark over the utility of the tournament was brought home to me several years ago when, while approaching the end of an interview with a Mumbai Test player, I slipped in a question about how playing the Kanga League helps a cricketer. The guy looked at my dictaphone, contemplated switching it off, decided against it before making a zero sign with his finger. I couldn’t believe it. After all, this batsman was a regular for his club and I had grown to admire his loyalty. But he was just being honest.
The Kanga League was introduced in the late 1940s keeping in mind the invaluable experience earned by batsmen on wet pitches that would stand them in good stead when they toured England. But now, apart from having English batsmen touring here to soak in the Indian way, not many Indian players travel to England for league cricket. Even this won’t be good reason for some to get over the demise of Mumbai’s monsoon league that tightened batting techniques gave bowlers a sense of confidence ahead of the domestic season.
The MCA president Ravi Savant has shown some level of vision to propose changes. His intentions are good, but will Mumbai cricket be better with these changes is the billion-dollar question.
The average former Mumbai cricketer has a sentimental attachment to the Kanga League. Understandably, he will view change cynically because he has spent half his life during monsoons at cricket tents and slushy grounds. He took pride in his 20-plus scores and dare anyone tell him that his big hauls were only due to the prevailing wet conditions.
A distressed club cricketer called me the other day to say he agreed with former Mumbai captain Shishir Hattangadi’s angst (in SUNDAY MiD DAY, June 30) over the Kanga League’s virtual end. This player, in his maiden Bradford League assignment in 1990, was told this on arrival: “I hear you have come from Bombay, the land of Sunil Gavaskar and Kanga League.” While no one should be allergic to change, the MCA ought to have come up with a solid plan about the substitute tournament. Sure, the Kanga League has been discussed among club secretaries and past players, who I believe are in agreement to the fair weather tournament, but September plans seem tentative. If clubs have been told not to bother to get set for a July start, they should know what they would be doing two months from now.
At best, Mumbai cricket’s new route is a work in progress and when I say this, I don’t mean any disrespect to people who are burning the midnight oil on getting things done.
Changing tournament formats should be married with the objective of making them more meaningful and rewarding to Mumbai cricket. A stronger club structure will go a long way in producing quality players. Cricket administration is in its most challenging era. The rest of India still watches the moves of the country’s premier cricket association closely. For many of the men who run city cricket, nothing is more important than the elections planned in August. How very wrong they are!
The end of the 65-year-old tournament reminds me of what Tevye said in the famous movie Fiddler on the Roof: “Traditions, traditions! Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof!”
Clayton Murzello is MiD DAY’s Group Sports Editor