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'Winning a Ranji Trophy is not easy now'

March 20, 2024 14:02 IST
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'That's the beauty of Mumbai cricket. Nobody interferes with the running of the cricket, only the cricketers are allowed to run the cricket.'

IMAGE: Mumbai players celebrate their 42nd Ranji Trophy title after beating Vidarbha in the 2023-2024 final. Photograph: BCCI Domestic/X

The 42nd Ranji Trophy title took some time coming for Mumbai.

It has been a frustrating long wait for Mumbai, whose last Ranji Trophy title had come in 2015-2016. Mumbai outplayed Vidarbha in a hard fought final by 169 runs last week to lay their hands on the trophy after eight years, under Ajinkya Rahane's captaincy.

For Mumbai cricket fans, anything other than a title is a failure and the pressure of expectations on the players when they take the field is unbelievably high.

And who knows it better than former Mumbai captain and former chief selector Milind Rege, who played a crucial role in their Ranji triumph this season as he came on board as Cricket Advisor.

Rege, who has been part of six Ranji Trophy title winning Mumbai teams, played a lead role off the field as he meticulously planned every little detail, working tirelessly during the last six to eight months to put everything in place.

"Winning a Ranji Trophy is not easy now as compared to our time," Milind Rege tells's Harish Kotian.

Under Rege's tutelage, Mumbai won seven titles this season including the Under-16 Vijay Merchant Trophy, the West Zone Under-14 Championship, the Women's T20 Trophy, the Women's Under-19 One Day Trophy, the 27th Bapuna Cup T20 tournament and the Reliance Men's Under-19 All India tournament.

The first of a multi-part interview:

How do you look back at Mumbai's 42nd Ranji Trophy triumph? Not many people had given the team a chance when the season started...

What happened was the the MCA president (Amol Kale) called me at the start of the season and he wanted me to be the Cricket Advisor on all cricket matters. I accepted it because I love Mumbai cricket and I have been doing it over the years. For me it was a nice opportunity.

If you see, a lot of hard work has gone into this Ranji Trophy triumph. In the last year, between the Cricket Improvement Committee and the selection committee, I have had 46 meetings. So, that was time consuming; we sorted out every single angle and we sorted out every single angle of what cricket should be for Mumbai, how to manage it and bring back it to the top, how to restructure the entire cricketing tournaments of Mumbai, how the boys should be playing and where they should be playing.

We decided that they should first play in all major tournaments which is all red ball tournaments so that they start preparing for red ball tournaments.

I must admit my colleague -- Cricket Improvement Committee Chairman Lalchand Rajput -- was open to all the suggestions.

We had to appoint all the committees, so in a day we were sitting to around 10 to 12 hours to appoint all committees, coaches, do the interviews.

It has taken a lot of toil, sweat and tears but at the end of it all it has gone well. We are happy with what we got, but we really planned a lot.

I must unabashedly say that it was fantastic planning to bring Mumbai cricket back. And I think maybe my younger generation committee members, because of my age, they were quite respectful and agreed to my views so it was a team game.

Just like the Ranji Trophy team because they played together, I think what we did in the pre-season, was also a very good thing.

Then we had a new selection committee with Raju Kulkarni as the chairman, he was quite mature with his views and managing the selection committee.

The selectors went to every nook and corner of Mumbai, to watch cricketers, and they did a lot of hard work.

The selectors have done a lot of hard work which is something I have not seen in my past 35 years of being a selector or with the MCA. I have not seen this kind of hard work done by any selection committee.

I must also admit that the MCA president (Amol Kale), secretary (Ajinkya Naik) along with the Apex Council they did not come in the way or they did not ask us a single question.

I think when that happens, you can do things because this is essentially a cricket matter and not everybody knows the game.

We are now reaping the fruits of our labour, because if you notice Mumbai won Under-14, Under-16, in the Under-19 they reached the final which they lost, the Under-23 also because of rain two matches were not held, then you had the Ranji Trophy and the women's team did well in the senior, Under-19 and Under-23.

So, overall, it was a pleasing year for Mumbai cricket, a very satisfying year.

But the real challenge starts now, we have to maintain it. That is the real challenge, once you become a champion like say a Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic, then the pressure of maintaining it is much more, but we will strive to do, let us see what happens in the future.

IMAGE: Former captain Milind Rege played a key role in Mumbai's Ranji Trophy triumph in his role as Cricket Advisor. Photograph: Milind Rege/X

This was Mumbai's first Ranji title after nearly eight years. What made it so difficult to win the Ranji Trophy because there was a time when Mumbai were winning consistently?

We must not forget that the other teams are also getting stronger. Winning a Ranji Trophy is not easy now as compared to our time when we just had to turn up on the ground and the other teams were finished, at least it was in my time.

We have to realise now that the other teams are becoming stronger now, they are putting together good policies and uncovering good young players so in the future we will see lot of good contests.

I did manage to contribute because of my experience, but this title was possible only because of the team work by everyone including the MCA committee, the selectors, the coaching staff and, of course, the players.

The final credit has to be given only and only to the players because it is they have to win, we can only provide them the pathway, but to perform match after match in a gruelling season, 9 to 10 matches over a period of three months without adequate rest.

The matches were scheduled close to each other, so there was hardly any time for recovery from travelling or any fitness issues. We missed a lot of players as they were away playing for India or India 'A' or the Under-19 World Cup, so we had a bunch of around 25 players who got a chance to play and that augurs well for the future.

Mumbai has won 42 titles out of the 89 Ranji Trophy seasons played since the inaugural tournament in 1934-1935.
Mumbai has also been at the forefront when it comes to having players in the national team including some of the greatest players of all time.
So how important is it for Indian cricket that Mumbai cricket flourishes and stays strong because it is Mumbai which sets the standard when it comes to the Indian domestic circuit?

I think that old adage 'Mumbai is strong, India is strong' is slowly passing away. Still, Mumbai has about 8 to 10 players in the international circuit currently, but the other teams are also coming up.

If you see our past greats also come forward and help us all along.

Sunil Gavaskar came to watch the Ranji Trophy final at Wankhede, Sachin Tendulkar also attended the game, Dilip Vengsarkar was there, then you had Ravi Shastri, Paras Mhambrey. All of them came to support Mumbai and if you have such legendary backing then the boys also get encouraged.

In which state do you see this happening that former greats come to watch and support their team? So the attachment of former cricketers to Mumbai cricket is really encouraging.

Some of the Mumbai players told me after the final that seeing the greats in the stands we were determined to win the title for them, we wanted to show them how good we are.

This is what Mumbai cricket is all about. Everybody comes together, everybody wants to win.

There is criticism sometimes when Mumbai doesn't do well, but that criticism is out of frustration and nothing more.

They are not criticising for the sake of it, they want to encourage the boys. We call these greats to talk to our players and they all readily oblige.

Someone like Chandrakant Pandit, who is not our coach anymore, wanted to watch Mumbai playing because his roots are here which is very encouraging for all of us.

IMAGE: Musheer Khan celebrates his century in the Ranji Trophy final against Vidarbha. Photograph: BCCI Domestic/X

And today, we have an association which gives us everything. When I took over this responsibility, I was told by the MCA president that nobody will interfere in the cricket affairs.

You are free to do what you want, your committees are free to do what you want. All you have to tell us is what support you need, what facilities you need and all that.. and we will help you out.

So that made sure there was no interference whatsoever in the team, which meant all cricketing decisions were taken purely by cricketers which is a big thing.

That's the beauty of Mumbai cricket. Nobody interferes with the running of the cricket, only the cricketers are allowed to run the cricket.

I remember when (former MCA president) Mr Sharad Pawar formed the CIC in 2003 or 2004, when I was the secretary of the committee. Mr Pawar had said then that cricket would only be run by the cricketers, all administration we will run, but nobody will interfere in the cricketing part of things.

That time in the committees we had greats like Madhav Apte as chairman, we had Gavaskar, Vengsarkar, Sanjay Manjrekar and others. I was the secretary for eight years so that phase we did well. But then things went downwards because other people started coming in.

This time, we went to the root cause of why we were not being successful despite having the talent, then we addressed the cause, we worked on it and we came up with suggestions.

One big that the selection committee did was that we did not drop players.

If you notice this year we had a different selection policy that players will not be dropped they will be given plenty of opportunities.

If the selectors think they are the best, picked them after doing so much research and after watching so much cricket then suddenly they can't become bad or your judgement is wrong.

The selection committee under Raju Kulkarni's chairmanship we decided that we will stick to this policy so there were no changes in the team. That gave the players a lot of positivity and they felt secure.

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