Decoding Mumbai Cricket - The epicenter of Indian cricket

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© Getty Images

Decoding Mumbai Cricket - The epicenter of Indian cricket

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Bastab K Parida


Mumbai - The city of dreams is never short on hopes. People from all walks of life come to the city with a hope to make it big. Some find it tough. But they struggle and, eventually, reach where they want to. Some, though, are lost on the way. It is the story of Mumbai, in a nutshell. ​

Azad Maidan and Shivaji Park - the breeding grounds of Mumbai cricket have a pretty similar story. Thousands of players, or you can call future India aspirants, daily travel to the Maidans through crowded local trains with big kits hanging on their shoulders. Everyone carries the dream of performing better than the best. There arises the Khadoos attitude in their game. They thrive under boundless expectations and then, some achieve the lion-crested Mumbai jersey. The feeling is surreal.

It is this competition and the strong desire to be successful that has made Mumbai cricket one beautiful topic to decode.

The history of Mumbai cricket is in sync with the history of Indian cricket as well. It is believed that the Englishmen started playing cricket in India during the mid-19th century at Esplanade (currently called as Azad Maidan) in Mumbai. Fascinated by the game, the Parsees established a club called Oriental Cricket Club in 1848. Slowly and steadily, cricket embedded itself in the psyche of the Indians, and Mumbai was at the epicentre of it, and it has been so since then.

It is an anecdote where theories still fail to reason Mumbai's eternal love for cricket.

The stride towards success is evident from the fact that Mumbai has won as many Ranji Trophy titles as the rest of India combined in the 82-year long history of the tournament. It has unearthed cricketers like Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar, Polly Umrigar, Dilip Vengasarkar, Vijay Merchant, Dilip Sardesai et al. While the list goes on, Maidan cricket, and its robust cricketing culture, has come up as for discussions and post-mortems umpteen number of times.

In 1948, the HD Kanga League was started in Mumbai in the Monsoon season to give the players an idea about the English conditions. More than 20 teams played on a single ground. It is where they are taught how to put a price on their wicket and not to be bogged down by the intimidation of the opposition. The art of being Khadoos is taught here and even the bowlers never throw their wicket while batting.

This Mumbai school of batting has reaped rewards in the form of trophies and rewards galore. They already have an overflowing Trophy cabinet and anything other than winning the title in the Ranji Trophy is considered as an ignominy. When Mumbai failed to win the title after qualifying for the knockouts in 2013 and 2014, they were all under the scanner. They once again regained the attention of the connoisseurs by winning the 2015-16 Ranji Trophy.

 © © BCCI Domestic Twitter

So, what pumps Mumbai cricketers to perform with such intensity, over and over again, generation after generation? The answer is pretty simple. The robust cricketing culture in the Maidans of Mumbai is the prime factor of their success, The seniors complement that by telling the juniors about the glorious days of the past in the dressing room. They pass the culture to the juniors by giving them insights into their glorious history in state cricket. That, in turn, motivates the juniors to replicate the success of their predecessors.

Former Indian wicketkeeper Chandrakant Pandit who took up the mantle of the head coach of Mumbai in their successful run in 2015, was quoted by Wisden India after their victory saying, “We don’t underestimate any team but to pep the guys up, I had to say, “Is a team from Saurashtra going to challenge Mumbai?” I put those kinds of thoughts in their minds. Naturally, that gives them motivation; it is the history you have to inculcate in them. You have to bring back those past memories about how Mumbai had won, how Mumbai came out of crunch situations. They like to know such stories, which can serve as an inspiration.”

But as they say, sometimes even the traditionalists fall in love with the new innovations, and Mumbai cricket is also no stranger to it. In the last few years, when the world fell in love with the T20 cricket, the Mumbai School of batting has also changed its style to try and be in a rhythm with the current trends. They may have continued their brilliant run on the field by winning tournaments but the Khadoos nature has gone away. The dedication towards the club and wearing the club jersey with utmost pride has been replaced by glossy IPL sleeves. The attraction towards IPL has given rise to their love for the slogs while the concept of grinding down at the wicket to play a composed innings has taken a backseat.

This is the fact which is evident from the strike rate of Shreyas Iyer in the last season of the Ranji Trophy. He scored 1321 runs at a baffling strike rate of 92.70 which underlines the statement.

Here is where the catch lies, though:  the first question - is it a bad thing to accept the new trends to be successful, or the good old trends that have clicked in the past should be retained for the time immemorial?

The answer is also pretty romantic, even. Like the Khadoos nature of Mumbai Cricket, where the players have to answer with the bat, they have answered with the Ranji Trophy victory. Mumbai, although, had a trophyless run of two years after the retirement of the old batch of the Tendulkars, the Zaheers, and the Agarkars, they came back stronger to win the Ranji Trophy last season.  

The new found method, mixed with the old resolve, made way for them to extend their hegemony. The pipeline of Mumbai always brims with talents and individuals eager to perform on the stage.

Despite every discussion of the declining Khadoos nature, one thing that pumps them up even now is the fact that they are the champions. The indomitable spirit that Mumbai cricket possesses has largely been attributed to the fact that they have been constantly reminded about their history and their capability.

Domestic season has begun with the Pink ball Duleep Trophy. Ranji Trophy is less than a month away. Mumbai cricket would be at it again. They may not replicate the hegemony of the 50s or 60s. But with history to support them, they can keep the silverware again, if any miracle doesn’t happen.

This is the kind of assurance and belief that has made Mumbai cricket and its cricketers a class apart.

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