Mumbai: It's been one hell of a season for Mumbai. On Monday (January 28) they wrapped up the Ranji final against Saurashtra in less than three days, and had already won national titles at the Under-16 and Under-25, level, and were in the final of the Under-19 competition. Naturally the Ranji Trophy title, the 40th for Mumbai, which booked them a February 6 date against Rest of India for the Irani Cup was the cream of it all.
Sachin Tendulkar may be nearing 40, but his enthusiasm at winning was far from muted. "Mumbai has again showed that it is a champion side. We have a good team ... a nice blend of youngsters and senior players," said Tendulkar. "There were moments when the going was tough, but that's was when the team stuck together and performed brilliantly. I feel very happy, especially for Ajit Agarkar who had a rough season last year. It was really difficult for him. But this season he led from the front and led beautifully. He performed when it mattered. The team supported him right through."
Agarkar, who maintained his winning record in Ranji finals, making it seven out seven, could barely catch his breath soon after the game was won. "My first thoughts are that I'm very happy and very, very proud obviously. I've won it before, but to win as captain makes it even more special," said Agarkar, who picked up four for 15 to partner Dhaval Kulkarni in Saurashtra's demolition. "It's very, very special. Having not been in the final for a couple of years all the guys were very keen to do well. Winning the Ranji Trophy is not easy and as the years have gone by it's become tougher because other teams have improved so much."
While Kulkarni would have been the obvious choice for the Man of the Match, having returned figures of nine for 56 in the two innings combined, the honour went to Wasim Jaffer, for putting the runs on the board in a game dominated by ball. "He's exceptional. I've said it many times before. I keep saying it after every game and he keeps doing the job for us year after year," said Agarkar, of the man who became both the highest run-getter and top century maker in Ranji history. "To play an innings of that kind on a pitch like this under pressure tells you why he has got the amount of runs he has and the record he has."
Agarkar was also keen to point out that the season had thrown up several heroes for Mumbai. "Everyone has chipped in at different times in the season. We've had eight or nine guys who have had exceptional seasons and that's why we're here today. If I start taking names I'll have a long list, beginning with Abhishek Nayar" said Agarkar. "Dhaval is one of the guys whose done well. He's been our stand-out performer for four or five seasons now. Aditya Tare has had a great season, as has Hiken Shah. Sachin has played a crucial role, Jaffer has done well as has Ankeet Chavan."
For Tare, his first Ranji season has been nothing short of special. Despite batting at different positions, Tare has scored heavily and done a smart job with the big gloves. His tally of 41 dismissals is the most for a 'keeper in a Ranji season, the same as the mark set by Punjab's Uday Kaul, who set the bar this season.
Agarkar did concede that he was surprised by how meekly Saurashtra capitulated in the second innings. "They've had a good season, that's why they were in the final. But we had conditions in our favour, conditions that we know well. I'm just happy we played well," said Agarkar. "I was a little bit surprised today. We got the ball in the right areas and were lucky enough to get the edges. Once we had them three or four down we knew they didn't have the kind of batting depth that we do. Dhaval bowled exceptionally, he could've had eight wickets with a bit more luck. Getting them out for 148 on the first day of the match was where we really won the game. There was a bit of moisture and with that in mind we put them in. It's not often that we put sides in in these matches. We also took all our catches. That has been a bit of a problem all season but today we held onto everything."
While a majority of the Ranji season around the country has been played on featherbeds, the surface served up by Sudhir Naik ensured that the bowlers were in the game at all times. "That's what we always try and do here. The aim is always to make a sporting track at the Wankhede but it doesn't always work out," said Agarkar. "You want the bowlers to be challenged and the batsmen too."