Earlier this season Amol Muzumdar broke the record for most runs in Ranji Trophy for the second time. He lost his crown to Wasim Jaffer last year as he sat out the season, but took it back in fine style against Himachal Pradesh, scoring centuries in each innings. The former Mumbai captain, who is now playing for Andhra Pradesh, talked to Firstpost about how it feels to break the record again, what keeps him going and how first-class cricket has changed over the course of his two-decades long career.
You have made a strong start to the season. Centuries in both innings against Himachal Pradesh and once again leading Ranji scorer. You also broke the record for most Ranji caps. What are you feeling right now?
There were a lot of celebrations. Every game we were cutting some cake. I was a little embarrassed. I was not used to it.
It was a good feeling [to break the record]. It was a bit more emotional than last time, because I missed out on one year’s worth of cricket last year. That will always bug me right throughout. To let a cricketer cool his heels for one year is very harsh treatment. But rules have to be followed. There were some doubts created in my mind as I was turning 38. Is it time? But this offer (from Andhra Pradesh) came at an appropriate time.
You have been playing Ranji Trophy for two decades. What have been some of the changes you have seen over that time?
I feel the fielding standard has really gone up. They are a lot of younger legs on the field. Earlier, it used to be a little bit of senior cricketers and slowness in the field. Nobody is slow in the field now. So the fielding standard has gone up.
Fitness, I feel sometimes, is overdone. Earlier it used to be a lot of bowling and batting in the nets. Now every odd couple of games someone gets hurt. The physio is the busiest person in the team. Every small cut and niggle, the physio is attending to it. Come on and get on with it. It should not be overdone.
The batting standard has improved but the quality of spin bowling has really deteriorated in the last three or four years. People have to take notice of this. The BCCI has to take notice of this. I am saying this from experience. I am not putting anybody down. Earlier every team used to have one good left-arm spinner and an excellent off-spinner and the odd one would have a leggie. If we don’t take notice of this, [India] will be in trouble in five or six years.
What has happened over the years is that the going over the top has become the norm. I can count on my fingers how many shots I have played over the top my last few innings. But if you see these youngsters, they will only talk about going over mid-on and mid-ff. It has become a bread and butter shot for them.
That is why the spinners have really started to dart the ball. and if you do that, you are not going to get revolutions (on the ball). The revolutions have to be there. That has dropped drastically. When Harbhajan was in his pomp, you could see the revolutions. Now they are just darting the ball in and that is big worry for India.
Hitting sixers has become like eating pastry at the pastry shop, and all I can hear when the spinners come on is, 'keep it tight, keep it tight.' The psychology has changed. That attitude should not be there. Spinners should pick up wickets.
What has kept you going all these years? What is the driving force?
Even I sometimes think about it. How have I kept on going? Sometimes when I am fielding, even I start feeling do I want to go through another session of fielding? To be very honest, now I have figured out. It is an addiction. Cricket is my addiction. To play cricket and be involved in a match situation, that gives you a kick at the end of the day. It doesn’t matter if you are successful or you have failed. It matters that you try. Getting involved in a match situation is what has kept me going. Playing cricket has been my addiction.
Were you aware of the milestone this time? Have you said anything to Wasim Jaffer?
Of course I did. If I say I didn’t know, I would be lying. I knew exactly how many Wasim Jaffer was ahead. But to be very honest, that didn’t really cross my mind until I was nearing it. There were other things to handle as well. You generally tend to play according to the situation of the match.
You are going to battle it out with Jaffer all season. Do you imagine you will be exchanging messages and needling each other?
I have known Wasim ever since he worked into the Mumbai dressing room. I think it was my third season. He has always been a prolific run-getter, a modern-day great of Mumbai cricket. I know that he is going to come back and score a lot of runs. To be on top of run-scoring chart is something special and I want to enjoy it until its there. Wasim and I have always exchanged notes about cricket. It will be the same.
What have been your most cherished Ranji memories? Best innings?
I had got 78 in 1993-94 finals [against Bengal]. It was the highest score in the first-innings against the likes of Chetan Sharma and Utpal Chatterjee. It was the pressure of playing in the finals. I was 19 years old. That was one of my better innings.
In the semi-finals against Madhya Pradesh in Indore in 1996-97, I got 142 under extreme pressure. It was the most pressure-packed match I have been in. Then against Baroda in the semi-finals in 2006-07 when I passed Ashok Mankad. We were 0 for 5 in the first innings and I got 98, which was very crucial.
These are the ones I have cherished because they came in big moments. I have been involved in nine winning campaigns. I am very proud of every piece of silverware we won when I was with Mumbai; particularly in 93-94 under Ravi Shastri and 96-97 under Sanjay Manjrekar.
The first one I was really young and putting your hand on the Ranji Trophy; it gave you a different buzz. In 1996-97, it was completely a team effort. Right from the start to the end we battled game after game and Sanjay led tremendously well. I learned a lot from that season. I scored a hundred in the quarters, semis and finals.
And I can’t forget 2006-07. That was really special. That kind of year can’t be repeated.