It was at the age of 14 that Sachin Tendulkar made his debut for Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy. He had come into a team rich in legacy and studded with stars who were in their own right champion cricketers. The youngster, though, was never bullied nor intimidated when he first entered the dressing room and shared space with his senior teammates way back in 1988.
On the contrary, it was these very teammates who would work extra hard on the lad to get him match ready, Tendulkar recalled at a function on Wednesday ahead of Mumbai’s 500th Ranji Trophy match.
“It was the friendship that reflected in the team. “The friendship reflected on the field. When there were difficult times, we had understanding,” Tendulkar said while sharing the dais with some of the team’s stalwarts like Ajit Wadekar, Madhav Apte, Sudhir Naik, Dilip Vengsarkar, Sanjay Manjrekar, Amol Muzumdar and current Mumbai captain Aditya Tare.
“Whenever the nets were over, Kiran Mokashi and Suru Nayak would take me out and ask me to pad up and set fields - silly point, slip, and all possible attacking fields,” Tendulkar recalled. “There were occasions that they would request that Raju Kulkarni and other fast bowlers to come and bowl at me. Without fail, Mokashi and Suru would come and work on my technique. That would give me so much confidence,” Tendulkar recalled.
“That’s why I was well prepared when I played my first game, I was only 14-15 then,” said Tendulkar, who announced his entry into first-class cricket with a fluent ton on debut.
He would go onto upstage some of the biggest names in world cricket, some of whom even shared the dressing room with him while he played for Mumbai. Today, Tendulkar is considered one of the greatest cricketers in the world. But, by his own admission on Wednesday, all might not have gone as smoothly if not for those formative years spent earning the hard knocks while representing Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy.
As the Aditya Tare-led Mumbai outfit readies itself to play in its 500th Ranji game, like in 1988, the focus is likely to be focused on the youngsters in the side.
Youngsters leading the charge
Unlike the Mumbai teams of old, which would be filled to the brim with seasoned pros, the make-up of the outfits over the last few years have showcased a more youthful vibe. With the stars of the team finding a regular place in the Indian national team, which operates on a hectic schedule, the onus for the state team’s success has fallen in the hands of youngsters.
The likes of Prithvi Shaw, Shreyas Iyer, Akhil Herwadkar have been the batting mainstays of the Ranji team this season. At 17, Prithvi is the youngest in the side and made his Mumbai debut earlier this year. Shreyas and Akhil are both 22. When the team takes to the field in their 500th game, all eyes will be on how they take up the challenge. This youthful look has added a new dimension to the Mumbai Ranji outfit that has long been known to dominate their opposition with their infamous ‘khadoos’ attitude.
It is this rich legacy that they have to carry forward. From maintaining the famous ‘khadoos’ Mumbai attitude to meeting expectations of a fan base which has become acutely accustomed to a Mumbai captain lifting the famous Ranji Trophy.
In the 499 games played so far, Mumbai has win percentage of 47%, Tendulkar noted while speaking at the event. “If I say it’s unbelievable, that would be an understatement,” he said.
As the game changes and competition increases with more states coming par with Mumbai in terms of cricket infrastructure and nurturing cricketing talent, there is concern over how long will Mumbai’s domination persist.
Like Mokashi and Nayak supported Tendulkar all those years ago, the onus is on the seniors in the current set-up to provide the help required to the promising youngsters to take the big leap forward. Prithvi, who has been in scintillating form this season with four centuries in five first-class games, has already earned plaudits with parallels being drawn between the Master Blaster himself. It is youngsters like Prithvi and Shreyas, who are going to form the next batch that will shape the upcoming phase of Mumbai cricket.
Captain Aditya Tare feels this pressure on the youngsters will not hamper their progress, stating that in fact it would only motivate them to strive for excellence.
“These players, like the stalwarts before them, come from a city that embodies the never say die spirit,” said Tare on the sidelines of the event on Wednesday. “These players are not getting bogged down. The history only acts as a motivation,” he added.
Dominance likely to slip?
According to former India batsman and Mumbai Ranji captain Sanjay Manjrekar, the development of the game in other parts of the country is likely to challenge Mumbai’s stranglehold over the competition as it has in the past.
“Cricketing landscape has changed rapidly in the past few decades. Small town cricket improving greatly. The youngsters there nowadays have a single minded approach. The competition is much tougher nowadays which is a good thing for Indian cricket. Youngsters. Kids in Mumbai have lot many options and distractions.” Manjrekar said.
He, however, feels the new generation will usher in their own style of cricket.
“But, I don’t think the new generation is affected by this legacy. They are not burdened by such things. They challenge convention and have their own vision. They will go out and play their own style of cricket. So, I don’t think should be burdened by this type of legacy,” Manjrekar said.
Recent form has been quite positive. Mumbai has won five titles in the last ten years, a remarkable feat considering the high level of competition prevalent in the India’s domestic circuit.
The current side led by Tare is coming off a fine win over Odisha in their previous game, which incidentally was their first victory this season. In the three games that the team has played so far, performances of these youngsters, especially Prithvi have been eye-catching to say the least. Not only has he and his mates piled on the runs, but they have done so with some style.
In their second game of the season, India’s premier spinner in Tests, R Ashwin, was left wicket-less in the second innings.
This attitude will not easily die, feels former India and Mumbai batsman Vinod Kambli.
“All of Mumbai’s players know only one thing that is to perform,” Kambli said. “It is inherent in the mind of a cricketer from this city. They know what they are playing for. Performing is key and I am sure this team and the ones that will follow will continue performing at the highest of standards,” he added.