The revelry inside the dressing room at the Wankhede Stadium was palpable. The room was chock-a-block with the Bombay players, administrators, photographers and fans who had gatecrashed to congratulate the team. It was a rare occasion. Ten years ago, in 1984-85, Sunil Gavaskar’s Bombay defeated Madan Lal’s Delhi to retain the Ranji Trophy. Long after that triumph, Bombay won it again in 1994 and retained the title this year under the leadership of Sachin Tendulkar.
Ravi Shastri led Bombay to victory on its homeground in ’94 March. The title win – 32nd from 36 finals – against Punjab at the Wankhede Stadium in the last week of March further enriched Bombay’s legendary track record in the Ranji Trophy championship. After a long period of exile, between mid 80s and early 90s, a new generation of Bombay players, subdued Bengal last year. It was a terrific triumph last year because Bombay did not have the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Vinod Kambli, Sanjay Manjrekar and Salil Ankola in its ranks then. The scenario was quite different this season.
Sportstar archives: Kumble, Warne taking leg-spin to its pinnacle
Bombay had these top players in its ranks and there was little surprise when it retained title.
Bombay’s performance, starting from October when it won the Wills Trophy and the Irani Cup defeating Haryana and Rest of India, was due to its skill and flair. The youthful team believed in itself. The team had an inspiring and imaginative captain in Tendulkar.
Sanjay Manjrekar hooks Ubaid Kamaal during his unbeaten 110 in the first innings. – Vivek Bendre
Ravi Shastri had been benevolent in dedicating last year’s triumph to Tendulkar, who was thousands of miles away in New Zealand last March. Now Tendulkar himself uncorked the champagne after beating Punjab.
Yes, Tendulkar was thoroughly pleased with his team’s performance and by his own admission was satisfied winning the title under his captaincy. After the forceful wins against Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh, Tendulkar anticipated a similar result against Punjab. He thought he had the striking ability to outdo Punjab in both the innings. “Yes, an outright win would have been more convincing. But the situation seemed a bit tight after the third day’s play. I did not enforce the follow on and try for a win because the bowlers were somewhat tired. And why should I give an outside chance to Punjab to come back. The game was firmly in our hold after we got the first innings lead,” rationalised Tendulkar, who at 21, became the youngest captain to win the Ranji championship in history.
The end result was an apt finish to a side which had almost dominated the West Zone league and outplayed the rivals in the knock-out stage. The only aberration was the drawn opening game against Maharashtra. In that match Sanjay Manjrekar was sent off the field for a session under the ICC Code of Conduct. There were a few hiccups against Saurashtra in the rain marred match at Bhavanagar, but with the return of Tendulkar everything fell in its place.
Sportstar archives: The many faces of Steve Waugh
Unquestionably, the medium pace attack of Salil Ankola, Abey Kuruvilla and Paras Mhambrey along with the spin twins, legspinner Sairaj Bahutule and left hand spinner, Nilesh Kulkami, helped Bombay to a great extent.
Bombay did not feel the absence of an offspinner, although it did play Mahesh Karanjkar and Sachin Kartade in two league matches. “There was no need for an offspinner,” Tendulkar asserted.
Punjab skipper Navjot Singh Sidhu in action. – Vivek Bendre
The three medium pacers and seamers of high quality formed the core of Bombay attack. “Neither me nor the captain have ever asked for a specific nature of wicket. We have left it to the curator and the groundsman,” said manager Ramakant Desai, who himself might have wished to bowl on the firm and green pitches that were prepared for the matches.
In fact, it was the type of pitch which influenced Punjab skipper Sidhu to field first and give his bowlers Bhupinder Singh (Sr.), Ubaid Kamaal and Sandeep Sharma a chance to bowl first on a fresh wicket after he had won the toss. On the eve of the match, Tendulkar had said that he would opt to field in the event of his winning the toss, but he did not and hence it was Sidhu’s privilege to take the decision.
Being asked to bat on a pitch which everybody thought would help the seamers and that too against a proven bowling combination was a challenging task for Bombay. Tendulkar’s individual performance was enviable this season. He had brilliant knocks of 175 and 97 against Baroda, 166 against Tamil Nadu and 109 against Uttar Pradesh. So, the Bombay batsmen, especially the top three, had a task to perform.
But Punjab got a early breakthrough. Umpire Subroto Porel raised his finger even before Ajay Mehra could take the catch, at short leg, offered by Manoj Joglekar. Ajay Mehra eventually dropped the catch. But Joglekar was disturbed by the Porel’s act and was bowled by the same bowler, Bhupinder Singh (Sr.), with the very next ball.
Sportstar archives: Hold your breath! Sir Vivian Richards on strike
Obviously for Punjab and Sidhu, the breakthrough was quite encouraging. A couple of more wickets by lunch on the opening day would have justified Sidhu’s decision to field first. Uttar Pradesh had depended too much on the seam bowling of Zaidi, but Sidhu had three of them to challenge the Bombay batsmen.
Bombay’s Vinod Kambli in action at the Wankhede stadium. – Vivek Bendre
From six for one, Bombay came out of the early pressure. Opener Sameer Dighe and Sanjay Manjrekar took the honours on the first day of the final. Whenever given the opportunity to open the innings, Dighe has showed his worth. He is the sort of batsman who loves challenges. The failure of Zubin Bharucha to cement his place as an opener and his subsequent omission from the team forced Bombay to try a new opening combination, Dighe and Joglekar.
The final was one match in which Dighe was determined to play the defensive role, especially in the pre-lunch session on the first day. Manjrekar simply fitted into his familiar role. With the two batsmen playing defensively, Punjab found it hard to break the partnership. It was only after lunch when Dighe grew in confidence that runs came more freely against the medium pacers and the spinners, Bharati Vij and Aashish Kapoor.
By close of play on the first day, Bombay’s position had greatly improved with both Dighe batting on 123 and Manjrekar on 110. The signs were ominous for Punjab.
Having made a quick recovery, Bombay consolidated its position on the second day.
Dighe and Manjrekar came close to breaking Bombay’s record for the second wicket partnership. But Dighe who made 137 (404 mts, 320 balls, 19 x 4s) was run out by Ajay Mehra.
Dighe’s dismissal was the second breakthrough which Punjab got after playing more than six hours. Manjrekar was going strong even after getting his century. Two-front-of-the-wicket drives off Bhupinder Singh (Sr) amply revealed that he was in complete control. The wicket was not much in favour of the medium pacers on the second morning, as it was on the first. It was more predictable and with the ball coming on nicely, Tendulkar quickly latched on to the opportunity to show his prowess with the bat. For about a quarter of an hour Tendulkar was choosy of his shots, but after he flicked and hooked Bhupinder Singh (Sr) for a four and a six, Punjab knew the trend.
Sportstar archives: Allan Border looks back on storied career
It was another devastating performance by Tendulkar, following his exhilarating knocks in the previous matches. After the medium pacers had been dispatched with disdain, Tendulkar played the spinners, Vij and Kapoor, with ease. Manjrekar too was at his menacing best. Tendulkar raced to his fastest 50 (51 mts, 34 balls, 4 x 6s, 5 x 4s) and 100 (115 mts, 83 balls, 5 x 6s, 11 x 4s) and Manjrekar went past his double century forcing Vij to the covers.
Punjab opener Vikram Rathore celebrates after scoring a century on the third day. – Vivek Bendre
Manjrekar’s 224 (370 balls, 29 x 4s) and Tendulkar’s onslaught, which actually helped the third wicket stand thrive, helped Bombay to a formidable first innings total.
Tendulkar’s swashbuckling knock ended when he was caught in the deep backward square leg. That his 140 came in just over three and half hours, facing 130 balls and with 5 x 6s and 14 x 4s, gives a clear indication of his dominance over the Punjab bowlers. Amol Muzumdar was the second batsman to fail for Bombay in the first innings, but someone like Vinod Kambli was to join the bandwagon of Dighe, Manjrekar and Tendulkar. The left-hander had put his mind over the matter and indeed, he celebrated on the third day morning after scoring his century. Kambli’s century came in seven minutes short of three hours, 109 balls with one 6 and 16 fours.
Tendulkar had prolonged Bombay’s first innings on the third morning. He was keen to see Bombay post a total of 700, but he declared ten mns short of that target when Sairaj Bahutule was caught at the wicket and Sandeep Sharma picked up his fourth wicket. For a team which had been sent in to bat on the first morning on a green, firm and fresh wicket, the degree of success after scoring nearly 700 runs has to be high.
Tendulkar and Bombay enjoyed every minute of it, but there was no regret for Sidhu who asked Bombay to bat first. Sidhu defended his decision saying, “On the first morning any captain would have preferred to field first. It was a green top like the one we usually see at Mohali.”
How many teams have successfully chased a target around 700?
Delhi did this remarkable feat on its homeground to shock Kamataka. Since then we have not seen such great deeds in the Ranji Trophy championship.
Sportstar archives: Kapil Dev savours a hard-fought series Down Under
Punjab lost two batsmen, Aashish Kapoor and Ajay Mehra, for 99 runs, which brought together the team’s top two performers Vikram Rathore and Test batsman and skipper, Sidhu.
Punjab’s Amit Sharma bowled by Salil Ankola on the fourth day. – The Hindu Archives
For Rathore, it was anothertrial of sorts. The bearded opener had scored over 1000 runs last season. He started the 1994-95 season with a hundred against Bombay in the Irani Cup which showed that he was determined to maintain his high standard and consistency. The task on hand was formidable, but Rathore chose the best possible way to lighten the burden.
He was more relaxed by not looking at the scoreboard. Sidhu on nine was given a ‘life’, his counterpart dropping the catch at first slip off Paras Mhambrey in the over before lunch. Sidhu, capitalising on that slice of luck, and Rathore constucted a partnership, which must have put fear in the minds of
Bombay players. With a attacking field set for the medium pacers, there were any number of shots which found their way to the fence. Rathore dominated the play, driving “on the up”, on the off side.
Mhambrey and Ankola tried to prise him out by pitching the ball slightly away, but Rathore still got the better of them by picking the length. In 60 minutes and 44 balls, Rathore raced to his 50 with a hooked six off Ankola. He hit nine fours. And in the next 78 minutes, Rathore rattled up his century – his second against Bombay in six months. Sidhu punished the leg spinner, Sairaj Bahutule, stepping down the pitch and hitting the bowler straight over the sightscreen and over long on. It was easily Punjab’s best phase when Rathore and Sidhu smashed the Bombay bowling.
It was a partnership which proved irksome for Bombay. Bahutule’s negative line, bowling round the wicket and wide of the crease, did not help matters. But when he switched back to over the wicket, Sidhu (108, 222mts, 170 balls, 4 x 6s, 11 x 4s could not resist himself playing an attacking shot five minutes from close of play on the third day. He managed to cut Bahutule into Dighe’s gloves and the fall of the third wicket after 218 run and 52 overs brought cheer to Bombay players.
“Well, he (Rathore) conveyed to us that he has come to score runs. He was hardly beaten. He is determined to do well,” said Tendulkar on Rathore’s superb and unconquered 172 on the third day. “He likes to dominate the bowling. That’s how he bats,” viewed Punjab team coach Daljit Singh on Rathore’s aggressive batting. Punjab closed out the third day at 322 for three, still a good 368 runs short of Bombay’s first innings score. The presence of Rathore in the middle was a big source of hope for Punjab. “We scored 700 plus against Delhi. But 690 is a big score. We will take it,” reflected Daljit Singh.
Sachin Tendulkar holding the Ranji Trophy that Bombay won under his captaincy. – The Hindu Archives
What transpired on the fourth morning might have completely nonplussed Bombay, probably Punjab too.
The Punjab first inning score, from 322 for three, ended 372 all out. Muzumdar took a brilliant catch at short extra cover when Rathore (177, 349 mts, 253 balls, 1 x 6, 28 x 4s) launched into a drive against Bahutule.
It was a major breakthrough after which the Bombay bowlers attacked consistently well to run through the Punjab innings. Ankola, Kuruvilla, Mhambrey, Kulkarni and Bahutule picked up two wickets each.
Bombay effectively sealed the fate of the match by dismissing Punjab for 372 and taking a first innings lead of 318 runs. Tendulkar did not consider it fit to enforce the follow on, but preferred to bat.
The Bombay batsmen indulged in some pyrotechnics to amass 513 runs for six wickets before Tendulkar applied the second innings closure. Action on the last day was breathtaking for the sheer manner in which Tendulkar went about to destroy the Punjab bowling and provided entertainment. In a unrestrained show of belligerance, Tendulkar stroked the ball wherever he wished and was particularly severe on the spinners, Kapoor and Vij.
Sportstar archives: Kapil Dev, right-arm nostalgia end!
Left-handed Bahutule only followed suit. Bombay made 353 in 51. 3 overs on the fifth day, the highlights being Tendulkar’s 139 (124 mts 91 balls, 15 x 4s, 7 x 6s) and Bahutule’s smashing 103 (113 mts 87 balls, 12 x 4s, 3 x 6s). It was a fitting finale to a season made memorable by Tendulkar’s showing as batsman and captain. It was just that he enjoyed himself on the last day of the domestic season with a grand hundred.
From the Sportstar archives