So Bombay wins easily — on an enormous six smashed just in front of where I sit, no less — and the players shake hands and they all retire slowly to the pavilion. What’s the happy audience at the Wankhede chanting?
No, it’s “Rahul, Rahul”. Which manages to leave me simultaneously encouraged and sad. Somewhere in that conundrum is a story about a once-proud tournament.
December 21: Bombay took on Punjab in their 7th Ranji match of the season. In the absence of several stalwarts — Sharma, Agarkar, Khan, Rahane, a certain Tendulkar — the team seemed weakened. But an endless supply of eager young cricketers is nearly a Bombay Ranji trademark. This season, their stars have been Abhishek Nayar, Suryakant Yadav and Ankeet Chavan, though nearly everyone has contributed.
In this match for example, a bustling 24 year-old medium-pacer called Balwinder Singh Sandhu makes his debut for Bombay memorable with five Punjab wickets on the first day. Cricket nuts like me read that name and think: Sandhu? Didn’t he play like 30 years ago? World Cup 1983 Sandhu, took out Greenidge in the final? Indeed, but another Sandhu.
But get this: that was Balwinder Singh Sandhu too. A bustling medium-pacer too. Made his Bombay Ranji debut at 24 too. And in that December match (too!) back in 1980, he took five wickets too.
Cricket nuts like me, we love this stuff.
On the second day, Wasim Jaffer set his record while collecting 82 runs. Third day, the tubby Ramesh Powar smashed 81 to drive Bombay to a yawning first-innings lead. In wiping out which, Punjab lost four wickets.
Fourth day, I settle in my seat half an hour into the day’s play. Free entry, yet sadly, there are only about 60 people watching — all men. I remember the 1977 Bombay-Delhi Ranji final; we bunked classes at college to listen to the radio commentary; the stands, we heard, were roiling with fans. Today, not even the eventual cascade of Punjab wickets — Chavan does the damage — manages to bring in substantially more supporters.
The man in front of me hands his friend his iPhone and poses for a shot, cricket behind him. His friend turns the phone around for a shot of himself, my elegantly naked shin — I’m in shorts — behind him.
Then they leave. Roiling, we are not.
Sandhu gets just one over, attracting cries of “Oye paape!” Punjab’s last pair adds obdurate runs and soaks up obdurate time. Eventually, Bombay begin their chase of 127 in front of a crowd grown to 150. One of whom, a boy wearing a “Daytona” T-shirt, strolls casually down and tosses his (full) Bisleri bottle over the fence, onto the field. His pals giggle. He grins. Apparently he thinks this is a bold achievement.
Jaffer plays out a maiden to shouts of “Arre Jaffer-bhai, timepass mat kar!” and “Tea break mein masala chai pi ke aa!” On cue, a real maiden — first woman of the day — walks in, accompanying four men and carrying two crisp “NM Medical” bags.
She’s come to the match straight from a medical checkup?
One of her companions points out the cricketers. He dwells at length, I notice, on a tall fielder in a bright blue cap. Why him?
Later, the man takes off his cap and bowls, to shouts of “Rahul, Rahul”. It’s nice to hear a visiting player being cheered, but now I put it all together. This is Rahul Sharma, legspinner, the best bowler for the Pune Warriors in the last IPL. His exploits then — including, accounts always say, Tendulkar’s wicket — set off a buzz. But his Ranji record? Mediocre.
Today, he makes no impression on Bombay’s charging batsmen. It’s off his bowling that Praful Waghela, a left-handed pocket dynamo, clubs the six that wins the match.
And the crowd — Daytona fellow included — chants only “Rahul, Rahul!”
No disrespect to Sharma, may he have a long and storied career, but this speaks of the IPL rise and the Ranji fade. For, consider: Bombay has won, writing yet another page in a glittering Ranji history. Jaffer is out there, emphatically one of domestic cricket’s all-time greats. With him are several other upcoming and established domestic stars.
But what dominates the thoughts of a sparse Wankhede audience? Some
four-over spells from a cricket carnival. It could be an epitaph I’ve just sat through.
DD left Bombay for 17 years to study computer science and, once done with that, work. Since he got back, he’s been trying to make up for lost time in many different ways. These days he writes for his daily zunka-bhakar. He lives in Bombay with his wife, their two children, and two cats. You can follow him on Twitter at @DeathEndsFun). He blogs at Death Ends Fun.