Mumbai’s achievement of 40 Ranji titles will be a difficult one to match for any team in the future. I have been a Mumbai cricketer and was part of the winning team on two occasions in the Ranji. I was also part of the Hyderabad team winning the Ranji in 1987.
In my opinion, a tournament as gruelling as the Ranji wherein the preparation and competition phases could be spaced out for more than seven months of the year until the final stage, it’s a challenge for players to sustain higher level of cricket to the end of the season. The Mumbai or Bombay story of success is the consequence of several basic traits which are difficult to achieve for rest of the teams, especially in the short run. Mumbai’s history of producing winning teams has ensured that the expectations of the players and the fans are always high.
The cricketing ‘environment’, generally the club and the institution, is a culmination of availability of turf wickets and employment by corporates of budding and established cricket players of the country.
The office cricket tournament in Mumbai has nearly 250 employers who represent the teams in various divisions. Apart from that, the same players represent in clubs, university and school level tournaments.
As a matter of fact there was a stage in Indian cricket when most of the national cricketer was employed by a corporate in Bombay and played in the tournaments. Without any exaggeration the Times Shield tournament corporate league was considered to be of better standard than the Ranji.
Until the seventies and eighties a player representing Mumbai was considered to be an automatic probable of Indian Test team. Resurgence of Indian cricket after the 1983 World Cup victory has coincided with the decline in the probability of the Bombay team winning the Ranji. The reason being the improvement in the other states. Mumbai was made to work harder to get players into the Indian team.
Having been a Mumbai player, I have been singled out amongst my Hyderabad colleagues who played cricket with me, as somebody who had “Khadus”. This meant I was less inclined to throw my wicket away than the rest of the batsmen.
To play for Mumbai one had to be more than just successful because of your responsibility was not only to play well but also to ensure that you were part of the team of winners. In Mumbai there is little recognition for the runner-up after losing the final. The players who form part of winning teams for the state are only looked upon by the local fans as their heroes.
Even now I do not see such expectation in any other state team and I consider it as unique among my experiences as a cricketer who has represented two States — Mumbai and Hyderabad in the Ranji.
(Vijay Mohan Raj is a former left-handed opener who played for Bombay and Hyderabad Ranji teams)