Clayton Murzello: When form is more vital than class
All-rounder Abhishek Nayar, who was dropped for a must-win game, is not the only big Mumbai player to endure such an exclusion
The cruel side of cricket is not lost on Mumbai all-rounder Abhishek Nayar, who wore India colours in limited overs cricket in 2009. His mind is probably going back to the 2006-07 season, when Mumbai were in danger of not qualifying for the Ranji Trophy semi-finals. Coach Pravin Amre insisted that Nayar be included in the squad that had lost three games in a row. He comes up with a heroic performance and helps Mumbai stay in the competition before going on to win their 37th Ranji Trophy title by beating Bengal in the final.
In the 2006-07 season, Abhishek Nayar's heroic performance helped Mumbai stay in the game, after which the team went on to win their 37th Ranji Trophy
Today, Nayar finds himself out of the Mumbai team. A mere 130 runs in five games caused the selectors to drop him for the all-important last league game against Tripura. Their ruthlessness, bravado, silliness... whatever you want to call it, caused the city's cricketing fraternity to give their eye balls a workout. He would have earned an endorsement deal from an adhesive brand for his 108-ball eight runs against Baroda, but he helped his team avoid defeat in the landmark 500th Ranji Trophy game.
Earlier this week, Mumbai ended up winning the game against Tripura convincingly and are through to the knockouts. If there was a positive for Nayar, it was in the fact that he was not included in the squad and dropped from the playing XI. If that had been the case, the sounds of 'why include him in the first place?' would echo, not only at the Wankhede Stadium but across the maidans and gymkhanas.
Nayar is cerebral, and though he could well be bleeding, he'll wear that steely robe and vow to return in that lion-crested shirt. Thirty-four is no age to call it a day in first-class cricket and Nayar would do well to abandon all thoughts of premature retirement. Besides, he's not the first illustrious player to be dropped to find no place for himself in a Mumbai team.
Fast bowler Umesh Kulkarni, who went on India's tour of Australia in 1967-68 without setting the Yarra river on fire, found himself out of favour when it came to representing Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy. His last first-class game for the city was the 1968-69 Irani Cup game in Mumbai.
A few seasons later, Sudhir Naik led a Mumbai team to Ranji Trophy glory despite five stalwarts (Ajit Wadekar, Dilip Sardesai, Ashok Mankad, Eknath Solkar and Sunil Gavaskar) being on tour with the India team in 1971. Yet, Naik did not figure in the following year's final. "I was hurt, but it made me stronger. I wanted to prove myself all the more. I was also disappointed when I was dropped from the team for the knockout stage of the 1969-70 Ranji Trophy, after scoring a hundred against Maharashtra," he told me.
Naik, who felt he should have been in contention for the Indian team in 1970-71, finally played for India in 1974. Shishir Hattangadi is another captain who had to bite his lip and accept his fate. "I was named captain of Mumbai for the 1991-92 season, but I was dropped. Dilip Vengsarkar returned from the Australian tour and led the team," Hattangadi recalled. He was stung, but not stunned, because he was deeply entrenched in the culture of Mumbai cricket. When he made his Ranji Trophy debut against Maharashtra at the Wankhede Stadium in the 1981-82 season, a big name was not on the team sheet - Eknath Solkar. Mind you, the former India all-rounder had led Mumbai to a Ranji Trophy win the previous season against a feisty Bishan Singh Bedi-led Delhi side. The Mumbai team for the 1981-82 season Ranji Trophy opener consisted of six Test players - Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar, Sandeep Patil, Ashok Mankad, Ravi Shastri and Karsan Ghavri and two future ones - Suru Nayak and Balvinder Singh Sandhu.
And there is no evidence of a furore caused by Solkar's exclusion. The West Zone Ranji Trophy League summary in Sportsweek's World of Cricket 1982 only said this about the city's campaign: "Bombay had a new find, left-arm spinner Ravindra Thakkar, who claimed 21 wickets - highest for the team in the league - ahead of others like Shastri, Sandhu and Ghavri. Zulfiqar Parkar set a Ranji record of 10 dismissals in the match against Maharashtra."
"Some will view it as curtains while others will try and convince themselves that they are not totally out of the scheme of things. I don't think a Mumbai player views a dropping as a calamity," said Hattangadi, who was keen on a youth policy when he became a Mumbai selector.
Every season that Mumbai doesn't enter as defending champions is treated as a vital and delicate season. This one is no different. They are up against old foes Karnataka in the quarter-finals on December 7. The match will be played on neutral turf in Nagpur. So much for creating interest in domestic cricket! But of course this is because the Ranji Trophy is not the premier domestic tournament for some. There's another tournament which is 'Premier'.
mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello. Send your feedback to email@example.com
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