Thursday, March 5, 2009

When Mumbai's batting ran amuck...

Given the long and storied history of Mumbai/Bombay cricket, and especially its batting prowess over the years, the title of this post might not immediately suggest a particular game! But I'm referring to one particularly awesome display of Mumbai's batting might -- a Ranji trophy semifinal against Hyderabad during the 1990-91 season.

The match was played at the Wankhede stadium at the fag end of the domestic season. It was late April, and already very hot. The great thing was that the Indian team was idle, so the stars were able to turn out for their Ranji teams. Mumbai had the services of Vengsarkar, Sanjay Manjrekar, Tendulkar and Kambli among others. Hyderabad didn't boast of such riches, but they did have two Test spinners in Arshad Ayub and Venkatapathy Raju, and a third spinner Kanwaljit Singh who was perhaps unlucky not to play for India.

Mumbai won the toss and proceeded to grind down the Hyderabad bowling on day 1, despite the early loss of the openers. Dilip Vengsarkar scored a 100, and Sanjay Manjrekar had made his merry way to a big score (in the 190 range, if I recall correctly) by stumps. Sachin Tendulkar had just joined him at the crease.

Day 2 was a Thursday, and I was a final-year college student... I decided to play hookey and go to the Wankhede. And what a fine decision that turned out to be! The Mumbai batsmen lit up the stadium with their strokeplay, and scored close to 500 runs in that single day's play! Absolutely no uncultured slogging either... after all, it's Manjrekar, Tendulkar and Kambli we're talking about.

In the morning session, it was the young 18-year-old Sachin Tendulkar who hogged the strike and the limelight, carting the Hyderabad bowlers all over the place. I particularly remember a couple of lofted on-drives off the spinners, where he hardly seemed to hit the ball -- and yet, the ball cleared the boundary for six. Sachin was already in the Indian Test team of course, and a sizeable crowd had turned up to watch him and Kambli bat.

Sachin's innings though was short-lived. Having sped his way to 70, he holed out to the bowling of Ayub. Enter Vinod Kambli, without quite the swagger he acquired after his India debut (two years later). He picked up right where Sachin had left off, and proceeded to dominate the bowling even more thoroughly than Sachin had. Sixes and fours on a regular basis... Meanwhile at the other end, Sanjay Manjrekar was proceeding serenely (or so it seemed, in contrast to the Tendulkar-Kambli duo). He passed 200, 250, and then the triple ton. Sanjay was a particular favourite of mine, being from the same school in Bombay. And of course his batting was always a delight to watch, even when he was deadbatting the most innocuous of deliveries! This innings though was special, with strokes flowing freely and smoothly, and without any of the violence at the other end.

Eventually, Manjrekar fell to a tired shot, having made 377 -- the second-highest first class score by an Indian, behind only the famous 443* by Babasaheb Nimbalkar. I thought Mumbai would declare at that stage with 700+ already on the board. But they had been scoring at such a hectic rate that there was plenty of time in the match. So they piled on the agony, with Raju Kulkarni swinging the bat around with gay abandon. Eventually, they declared after passing 800 (and got a few more runs tacked on as penalty for slow over rate).

I was sitting at the pavilion end in the Garware stand. Next to me was an elderly gentleman who was obviously a regular at the Wankhede. Once a Hyderabad player misfielded a drive badly, and let the ball through his legs for four. I did a LOL, err... laughed out loud, and the old man promptly scolded me! He said I should understand the plight of the Hyderabad players, having been in the field for so long, and at the receiving end of such a thrashing. I enjoyed that thrashing nevertheless!

The match ended in a draw, and Mumbai progressed to the final by virtue of the first-innings lead. But it wasn't a "dull draw" really. Hyderabad fought well to score nearly 500 in their turn, with their warhorse M.V. Sridhar scoring a big ton. With little chance of a result, Mumbai didn't enforce the follow-on and proceeded to thrash the Hyderabad bowling all over again, scoring nearly 450 at 5 runs an over! Kambli scored another rapid ton, and Sachin thrashed his way to 88. Sadly, I wasn't able to play hookey and watch this repeat performance :) But certainly, I went home that day having seen Manjrekar create history, and having had yet another glimpse of the prodigious talent of the Shardashram twins.

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