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It is tougher to win the Ranji Trophy now, as other teams have improved a lot," said Ajit Agarkar, shortly after leading Mumbai to their 40th title in India's premier domestic competition.
Mumbai's captain was being diplomatic.
A glance at the statistics makes it clear that there is only one team that has dominated the Ranji Trophy since its inception.
In the last decade, Mumbai won the competition on six occasions. Moreover, the last 10 times the team reached the final it ended up lifting the trophy.
Mumbai's last defeat in a Ranji Trophy final came back in the 1990-91 season when Kapil Dev's Haryana pipped them to the post. In fact, the team lost just four of the 44 finals it contested, winning the annual tournament 40 out of the 68 occasions it was played.
There are few examples of such dominance, spanning decades, by a team in sport. The ones that immediately come to the mind are Manchester United in the English Premier League – winning 12 out of the 20 seasons contested, Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga – winning 22 of the 50 seasons contested, Rangers - the Glasgow club having won a record 54 Scottish Premier League titles, or for that matter Bengal, which has won the National Football Championships (for Santosh Trophy) in 31 of the 67 year it's been played.
The above-mentioned are examples where the other teams in the fray are a distant second.
If one looks for examples in cricket, the closest challenger to Mumbai's dominance would be New South Wales, who won the Sheffield Shield -- the Australian equivalent of the Ranji Trophy -- on 45 occasions, in the tournament's 130-year-old history.
However, New South Wales's case is weakened to an extent by Queensland, their closest challengers who won the competition 28 times. When it comes to the Ranji Trophy, the second most successful team after Mumbai is Delhi, the latter having won the tournament only on seven occasions.
It is this huge difference that underlines Mumbai's dominance in the tournament.
So what is it that has worked for Mumbai when it concerns the Ranji Trophy?
"We don't always have smooth sailing at league stage," explained Agarkar.
"Yet, we know how to play, and win, in the knock-out rounds," he added.
Sachin Tendulkar, arguably the greatest player to have played the sport, and a five-time winner of the tournament, concurred."There were moments this season when the going got tough," explained Tendulkar, adding, "But that's when the team stuck together and performed brilliantly."
It is not difficult to understand the point made by the Master Blaster.
Mumbai didn't get off to a great start this season, scoring just one outright win -- against Madhya Pradesh, in its eight group matches. However, in the business end of the tournament, they comfortably edged out former champions Baroda in the quarter-finals and got the better of Services in the semi-finals – both by virtue of first innings lead.
And in the final, it was an innings and 125-run win for Mumbai, as Saurashtra caved in inside three days at the Wankhede stadium.
"The seventh league game against Madhya Pradesh was a crucial one for us," explained Dhaval Kulkarni, who took nine wickets in the final and finished with 30 in the season.
"It charged us up, and from there on we carried forward the momentum right till the final," he added.
The manifold reasons notwithstanding, fact is Mumbai's reputation in the tournament is enough to intimidate opponents and put them under pressure even before they take the field, as was witnessed in the three knock-out phase matches this season.
What follows is a meek capitulation of the opposition.
Over the years there have been very few teams which haven't been daunted by Mumbai's formidable reputation.That again explains why Mumbai have been so dominant in the Ranji Trophy.