A peep into the Ranji Trophy history tells a thousand heroic tales of 39-time champions Mumbai. However, if this week they get past Tamil Nadu in the semi-finals and go on to clinch their 40th title, this feat has the potential of a script for a book or a movie.
A dramatic turn of events has accompanied Mumbai's jumpy ride to the last four stage: a key player turning his back on his team and catching a flight home in a huff, promising youngsters that have proved equal to the task when more illustrious team-mates have left on national duty and a captain striking form at the right time who became the highest run-getter in Ranji history.
Mumbai's achievement is even more significant when you consider it comes at a time when there is resurgence among teams with smaller reputations and growing ambitions. Rajasthan, the defending champions; Haryana, who are in the semi-finals; and Madhya Pradesh, who lost to Mumbai in the quarter-finals this season. All three are manifestations of this growth of cricket in the nation.
When Mumbai entered the quarter-finals, the Wasim Jaffer led team had a depleted look on paper with their star players missing. Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane were in Australia, Ajit Agarkar had caught a flight to Mumbai before the December 2 match against Orissa after being informed by his captain and coach that he would not feature in the game, and Abhishek Nayar was down with an injury. But the youngsters put their hands up when the chips were down and turned the fortunes for Mumbai.
Chasing Madhya Pradesh’s paltry first-innings total of 192, Mumbai were 60 for 5 and looking down the barrel when Kaustabh Pawar, in his debut first-class season, scored a gritty 160 off 328 deliveries. Later, left-arm spinner Ankeet Chavan batting at No.9 also slammed a century, which was instrumental in Mumbai taking a first-innings lead and winning the quarter-final tie.
Mumbai are just two matches away from lifting the coveted Ranji Trophy title for the 40th time. In the process, they have seen their captain become the highest run-getter in Ranji history, surpassing his former team-mate Amol Majumdar in the match against Punjab.
More importantly, they would be encouraged by the performances of youngsters like Suryakumar Yadav, who is now fourth in the run-charts, and the sparks shown by Pawar and Chavan. They also have a healthy competition for places in the bowling department, be it between pacers Dhawal Kulkarni and Balwinder Sandhu, or left-arm spinners Iqbal Abdullah and Chavan.
Nayar, who hit a massive double ton against Rajastan in the Group A match in November, missed out in the next few matches due to injury, but is available again to face Tamil Nadu in the semi-final.
The fit-again allrounder is pleased with the team's and his own performance so far. “This Ranji season Tamil Nadu has played good cricket, but if Mumbai continues to play how they have played in the last matches then we have a chance of winning,” a positive Nayar told Cricketnext.