What is wrong with Mumbai's junior cricket?
Mumbai's supremacy suffers huge blow after Under-16, Under-19 and Under-25 teams, which almost won everything last season, fail to even qualify for knockouts in their respective tournaments this year
A Senior Mumbai coach once quipped: “It is a routine thing if Mumbai wins a title, but it is big news if they don’t.” Mumbai enjoys an unmatched supremacy in Indian domestic cricket. It is not just the 40 Ranji Trophy titles, their junior teams too have been forces to reckon with over the years.
Surprisingly, Mumbai’s famed legacy has taken a beating this season. Leave aside winning tournaments, none of their Under-16, Under-19 and Under-25 teams have managed to even qualify for the knockout rounds of various competitions (see box). And matters could get worse if the Ranji Trophy defending champions fail to claim an outright win in their last league game against Gujarat in order to stay in contention for a quarter-final berth.
Given that Mumbai, especially their junior teams, won virtually everything on offer last season, they have been extremely poor this time round. The highlights of the last season were: Ajit Agarkar’s side winning the Ranji title for the 40th time and the U-25 team under coach Vilas Godbole clinching the Col CK Naydu Trophy for the third consecutive year. They finished runners up in the U-19 Cooch Behar Trophy.
Vinayak Samant, coach of the U-25 team, felt the boys became a bit complacent after their wins. “I think complacency crept in. I don’t know why,” Samant told MiD DAY.
The former Mumbai stumper, however, stressed on the need to have the ‘khadoos’ attitude. “We lacked killer instinct. The boys have to learn to finish the game whenever there is the slightest of opportunity. That khadoos attitude was missing. It requires courage to win a match from a losing position. If the batsmen flop, bowlers have to back them with the bat. That did not happen. Mumbai is different from other teams because of their courageous efforts,” he said.
Overall, Samant felt his team was unlucky. “We were playing well, but the game against Tamil Nadu which got washed out, hurt us the most. That was the turning point for us in the season. We did well on the first day of that match and were expecting a positive result which would have improved our chances of qualifying,” he lamented.
Prashant Shetty, the coach of the U-16 team, said they could not capitalise on their batting. “We rely a lot on our batting but it did not click. We couldn’t convert the starts. There are some really talented batsmen, but we needed hundreds from them. Only Prithvi Shaw was amongst the runs for us,” Shetty said.
Shetty, however, did not believe there is a need for too much introspection. “It happens. It was just a one-off season for us. I am sure we will bounce back next time. I don’t think we require too much introspection. We don’t need to change too many things. Our system is still good and there is a lot of talent,” the coach said.
Under-19 coach Vinod Raghavan said the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) has gagged him from talking to the media about the poor outcome. The Dec 29 tie against Kerala U-19 at Wayanad Krishnagiri would decide Mumbai’s fate as far as relegation is concerned. Samant, meanwhile, has already taken up an early training camp for the U-25 boys and has also sent a detailed plan to the MCA for the next season. “These guys need inspiration. It would be great if we can have Sachin Tendulkar or Sunil Gavaskar to give a pep talk.
“This is one of the things that I have suggested apart from other things. My heart bleeds for Mumbai and it hurts when we don’t do well. I am positive for a turnaround in the next season,” he concluded.