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When Vijay Bhosale took Mumbai to the Ranji Trophy title

A recap of the 1971 Mumbai vs Maharashtra epic summit clash which was the city’s batting stalwart’s last Ranji Trophy game

Vijay Bhosale has no time to watch the ongoing Mumbai vs Maharashtra Ranji Trophy quarter-final on television. He is busy preparing for his Sunday morning departure to Auckland, New Zealand where his son Sangram has settled down.

Vijay BhosaleVijay Bhosale in full flow in a domestic match. Inset: A recent picture of Bhosale

The same Bhosale was an integral part of a Mumbai vs Maharashtra epic clash way back in 1971 when six Mumbai players including skipper Ajit Wadekar were in the West Indies doing duty for India. In Wadekar's absence, Mumbai were led by 26-year-old Sudhir Naik, who went on to represent India in 1974.

Seasoned pro
Bhosale first played for Maharashtra in 1955-56 followed by Baroda before he returned to Maharashtra. In 1967, Mumbai (then Bombay) invited Bhosale to play for them — a rarity considering their strength. Bhosale (then 30) was dropped from the Mumbai team that played the quarter-final against Delhi and though the hosts won by 10 wickets, their young captain wanted a seasoned campaigner in his inexperienced batting order.

Naik recalled yesterday: "The selection committee comprised Vijay Merchant (chairman), Madhav Mantri, Polly Umrigar and Sharad Diwadkar. Before the semi-final against Bengal, Diwadkar came to office to ask me what I felt about Bhosale. I told him that his inclusion would benefit the team immensely. He asked me to express my desire in the selection meeting because he feared that the other selectors might not be convinced with his views. 

At the meeting, I explained the need to have Bhosale to Merchant, who didn't seem too keen on him. 'His career is coming to an end. He doesn't stand a chance to play for India, so why do you want him,' Merchant responded. I said, 'Sir, I am aware he won't play for India, but he is experienced and accomplished. I want him.’ Merchant agreed and so did the other selectors including Diwadkar who emphasised the need for experience."

Bhosale returned to the team for the semi-final against Bengal at the Eden Gardens and scored 58 to vindicate his skipper's faith. In the final against Maharashtra, he batted at one-drop but fell for a duck. Mumbai were restricted by Chandu Borde & Co to 287. Maharashtra responded by getting bowled out for 230. The Mumbai batting came a cropper in the second innings. 

They lost Sudhir Naik, Ramnath Parkar and Ajit Naik with only 21 on board leaving the repair job to Bhosale and Mahesh Sampath. "Not only did Bhosale bat in splendid fashion on a turning track, he also looked after his junior partner Sampath, who batted well too," said Naik. The duo put on 99 for the fourth wicket, a major contribution in the 196-run total in which Bhosale (55), Sampath (60) and Milind Rege (33) were the top scorers.

"The wicket was a very difficult one to bat on, but I was confident of getting a big score. I thought I was a good player of spin bowling and I always played late. I was most disappointed when I played back to part-time off-spinner Chetan Chauhan to be out leg before wicket," said Bhosale.

Maharashtra were set 254 to win and take home the Ranji Trophy. "They had reason to be confident because their batsmen were in fine touch that season. They had tall scores right from the league stage. Their top three - Chetan Chauhan, Madhu Gupte and Hemant Kanitkar were in form. Plus, there was Borde and the rest," said Naik. 

Abdul Ismail got rid of the openers before left-arm spinner Padmakar Shivalkar (6-56) got into the act. Maharashtra ended Day Four on 144 for five — only 110 runs away from victory. Apparently, they had booked a room in the Taj Mahal hotel to celebrate. But on April 7, Shivalkar cleaned up the rest of the batting for Mumbai to win by 48 runs. 

Bhosale had decided before the final that it would be his last match for Mumbai. "I felt it was time for young players to come in. My teammates urged me to reconsider but I had made up my mind. I was glad to leave the scene after playing a fighting innings which helped my team win," said Bhosale.

Celebration in WI 
Far away in the West Indies, Wadekar and his Mumbai men celebrated. "We were following Mumbai's progress. I used to get updates from home. We also heard that the Maharashtra officials were in full attendance and were ready to celebrate at the Taj. In the end, we Mumbai players celebrated with champagne when we got the news of their victory," Wadekar said. 

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