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An infamous season alright!

Updated on: 02 February,2023 07:16 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Clayton Murzello |

Leave aside the wait for another Ranji Trophy title getting longer, Mumbai not advancing to the knockout round is unacceptable

An infamous season alright!

A disappointed Mumbai captain, Ajinkya Rahane, on the final day of the last Ranji Trophy league game against Maharashtra at the Brabourne Stadium on January 27. Pic/Ashish Raje

Clayton MurzelloThe silverware cabinet at the Mumbai Cricket Association office will not be opened to welcome a replica of the 2022-23 Ranji Trophy.

The Mumbai senior team have missed out on Indian cricket’s national championship honours yet again. This season, the cut is deeper because Ajinkya Rahane’s side didn’t make the knockout rounds, which is a rarity.

Understandably, a part of the city’s cricketing fraternity is in shock and one can imagine what the skipper and players are enduring in the aftermath of a highly forgettable Ranji season. The last Ranji Trophy triumph in 2015-16 seems so far away.

Doubtless, they ought to have given a better account of themselves. Clearly, they lacked the consistency to go the distance and challenge their hungrier rivals. Wins over Andhra Pradesh and Hyderabad were followed by a loss to Saurashtra, a draw against Tamil Nadu, a victory over Assam, a crushing defeat in Delhi and last week’s draw against Maharashtra.

The defeat to Delhi was a deadly blow, an outright loss inflicted by a team not expected to dominate Mumbai.

Before the first ball was bowled at the Kotla, Rahane’s team had three wins against a winless opponent.

Also Read: City cricket loses some swing!

A sizeable total in the first innings is pivotal but Mumbai could only manage 293, out of which Sarfaraz Khan smashed 125. With two Test players in the XI (Ajinkya Rahane and Prithvi Shaw) they could have done better to gain ascendancy. Delhi piled it on through the efforts of Vaibhav Rawal (114) and skipper Himmat Singh (85) to total 369, before another storm kicked in. Sarfaraz—who several pundits believed should have been part of the India squad for the first two Tests against Australia—got a duck and fifties from the blade of Rahane and Tanush Kotian were not enough to give Delhi a big target to chase. As it turned out, Delhi won easily, evoking mentions of their last outright triumph over Mumbai — 43 seasons ago in the 1979-80 Ranji Trophy final at the same venue.

Sandeep Patil, who only recently aspired to head the Mumbai Cricket Association, was out of town when Rahane’s team failed to beat Maharashtra outright; the draw meant Mumbai’s Ranji Trophy campaign was well and truly over.

Patil called to check on the result like he often does. After delivering the news of Mumbai’s fate, I offered to send him the match details. He politely turned down my offer and I could sense the disappointment in his voice while he said so.

Patil is one of the few Mumbai Test players who has experienced a Ranji Trophy ‘knock out’ of this nature. He was in the side when the Milind Rege-led Mumbai team didn’t qualify in 1977-78. For many years, this stayed the lone case of Mumbai 
not advancing.

It must be stressed that when Mumbai slipped badly in that 1977-78 season, they were without their Test men. Sunil Gavaskar, Ashok Mankad, Dilip Vengsarkar and Karsan Ghavri were all in Australia on India duty.

Accomplished writer Sunder Rajan minced no words in his analysis published in Cricket Quarterly magazine. He blamed the players as well as administrators for the infamous season, but also wrote, “Looking back, one is inclined to believe that the unseen hand of fate did play a role in Bombay’s misfortunes.”

Rege, who was on my Mumbai Cricket podcast last August, was glad to set the record straight. He did stress that more than a day’s play was lost to November rain in the season-opening fixture against Saurashtra at Mumbai. The following month, their game against Baroda at Moti Bagh Stadium was marred by crowd disturbances. Rege also recalled how Mumbai’s appeal for a replay was turned down by the BCCI, then headed by M Chinnaswamy.

Like Rege, current captain Rahane may have good grounds to bring up factors that were beyond his control. Promising and in-form batsman Yashasvi Jaiswal was too unwell to be part of the team against Delhi (he missed the match against Assam as well). And what bigger blow could Mumbai have copped before their do-or-die last league game against Maharashtra than run machine Sarfaraz being ruled out due to temperature.

Rahane made no excuses in his post-match interaction with the media and indicated that the players must show more commitment to the team cause. 

The season witnessed an extraordinary piece of exclusion and selection. Suved Parkar smashed 252 against Uttarakhand on debut in last season’s quarter-final. He scored a half century in the final against MP. Guess when he played his first Ranji game of this season? In the vital final league game against Maharashtra!

There are bright spots in an otherwise depressing season for Mumbai. Top of the list would have to be Sarfaraz’s scores. Shams Mulani, that tireless left-arm spinner, has enjoyed another fine season. Mumbai cricket is replete with stories of courage and a deserving new entrant to the bravery book is Kotian.  An injury to his right hand while fielding against Maharashtra needed six stitches and he batted with extreme discomfort to score 93 in Mumbai’s first innings.

First innings centurion Prasad Pawar has something to look back at with satisfaction as well. One wonders why he wasn’t sent out while Mumbai attempted to chase.

The Ranji Trophy is the holy grail for Mumbai cricket. The failure to make the knockouts is considered blasphemous. And although this situation is not unprecedented, everyone involved with Mumbai cricket has to accept responsibility.

Better pluck next time.

mid-day’s group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello

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