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Mumbai's young guns rise and shine

February 07, 2007 17:07 IST
It is named after a stalwart and flanked by one of the modern greats.

The Vijay Manjrekar dressing room was a blur of activity on Monday afternoon. At the heart of it was Sachin Tendulkar. Mumbai were crowned Ranji champions for the 37th time, and the players had just brought the silver replica of the trophy inside.

The sheer weight of history, of tradition, of the place itself can be intimidating, awe-inspiring. But the young, red, beaming faces in the huddle, enjoying possibly the biggest triumph of their career, knew they belonged there. They had, like the veterans in the team, emerged from the darkest corners to climb the peak of achievement in less than three months.

The Ranji Trophy 2006-07 season

"This is the greatest performance I've ever seen," said Milind Rege.

Having made his debut in 1966-67 and been associated with Mumbai cricket since then, Rege has seen many domestic success stories. Perhaps, the sense of proportion may have received a blow, since he is now chairman of Mumbai's selectors and has a chance to smirk at the people who criticised his and his committee's wisdom after the first three matches.

The victorious Mumbai team"These past few days have been the most stressful in my life," added Rege. "But the team has risen from the ashes.

"Earlier in the season people complained that this looked like some under-22, under-20 side. They've got the talent; we have been patient with the youngsters and that has paid off."

Mumbai, who had surrendered the Ranji Trophy two seasons ago, dropped points in the first match against Bengal. Buoyed by coach Paras Mhambrey, a former Mumbai captain, Bengal took a massive first innings lead and collected two points from the drawn match.

Two matches later, against Punjab and Hyderabad, Mumbai were still staring at blank. Relegation and embarrassment were just a match away. But Mumbai battled. Sahil Kukreja scored 53, Rohit Sharma a massive 205 and Abhisehk Nair, predominantly a bowler, slammed 97 against Gujarat.

Mumbai won the match by an innings and 163 runs. Two more outright wins, Mumbai were back.

Zero runs, five wickets down against Baroda in the semi-final. Eye of the Tiger playing in the dressing room, Mumbai battled again, sneaked to 145. Nair and Wilkin Mota, who had broken the string of ducks earlier, returned with three wickets each as Mumbai won by 63 runs.

Amol Muzumdar, the captain, led valiantly. Mumbai still received bolts of inspiration from its group of international stars. But whenever it was left gasping for breath, the fresh legs carried them through.

Muzumdar was once again the highest scorer for Mumbai (538 runs in eight matches), but running him close in his first season itself was Sharma, 531 runs, also from eight matches. Nair, with 360 runs and 15 wickets in five matches, was the find of the season. Youngsters like Mota and Kukreja, who were persisted with, contributed when the chips were down.

"It was bound to happen, the young guns have to take the responsibility now," said Mhambrey.

"Yes, maybe, we can say that this can become the future of Mumbai cricket. They won the trophy in the first year itself; Mumbai has the structure for the support staff to take this bunch further."

Apart from the fact that Mumbai whimsically kept on churning out talent, it remained a very strong team in the 1990s because of a consistent core team. There was Vinod Kambli, Muzumdar, Sanjay Manjrekar, Sairaj Bahutule, Mhambrey, Abey Kuruvilla, Nilesh Kulkarni, Sameer Dighe, apart from the Tendulkars and Agarkars, who could be match-winners on their given day.

After two seasons of experiment, Mumbai could be ready for the change of guard.

"We had five debutants and four maiden hundreds in the tournament itself," explained Mumbai's coach, Pravin Amre.

"As a team we made some dubious records, like going blank after the first three matches, being 0 for 5 down, but the boys fought it all and came out stronger.

"I guess we've spotted the players that can serve Mumbai well for the next 4-5 years. It's the dawn of the new era."

The youngsters themselves, punch-drunk on the achievement, would like nothing more than proving the coach right.

"It's a great feeling to be a part of a star-studded team and then to go and actually contribute in Mumbai winning is amazing," said Nair, after tasting success in only his second season for Mumbai.

"I guess being young we're naturally more aggressive; we enjoy challenges. Playing for Mumbai, which we know has such a rich tradition, there obviously is a load of expectations. When you wear the Mumbai cap, the pride level goes up.

"We now know we have the material, we are looking forward to more days like these."

Deepti Patwardhan