A Ranji trophy final that ends in three days is pretty unheard of. But Mumbai and Ajit Agarkar didn’t mind it at all. Without Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravindra Jadeja, Saurashtra didn’t have a chance to begin with, but to see them go down so meekly was also perhaps an indication of just how much stronger Mumbai were.
Firstpost spoke to Mumbai skipper Ajit Agarkar on an up and down season that almost saw Mumbai not make it to the knock-out rounds of the Ranji trophy but ended with their 40th Ranji Trophy title.
Did the final go on expected lines?
The final turned out to be much easier than anticipated. To win in three days is unexpected. The wicket offered us some help on the first day but by the third day, we expected Saurashtra to put up a fight. The pitch was pretty good for batting. But perhaps, they lost it on the first day itself. They were 50-5 and the wicket of (Sitanshu) Kotak knocked the stuffing out of them. He is capable of stone-walling and we have seen him do it before. His wicket was big.
But even then, there was no batsman in the Saurashtra team that we were afraid of, we knew we would get them. We believed in the quality that we had, we knew we were better.
Looking back at the season, was there a turning point?
I keep going back to Indore. We beat Madhya Pradesh by 7 runs but it could have gone either way. We would have been happy with three points as well but the win gave us a big boost. Till that point, we had not had a bad season. We didn’t have wins, but otherwise we were playing pretty good cricket. However, a close game can do wonders for the side’s confidence. Ishwar Pandey was swinging at everything, he already had scored 24 off 13 balls with three sixes and had he hit another six, we might have had a tie. But we won by 7 runs. Zaheer Khan came through for us in the second innings and it was a big moment in our season. It just got us back on track.
Till that point, Punjab had easily qualified from our group and it was a bit of a struggle for us. After that, we kind of knew, it was destiny.
There are few players who made a greater impact for Mumbai, than Abhishek Nayar -- 966 runs, 19 wickets…
He was simply fantastic. And it is important to notice that he played all 11 games – he is an allrounder, he batted for long periods and bowled too. This is the kind of season he may never have again. I wish he can, but it was a season where he just couldn’t get anything wrong. He was my go-to man throughout the season and in a sense, this is what we expect of him. He is always very determined and for him to come up big was great for us.
Wasim Jaffer missed four games to begin the season and that’s half the matches in the league stage but when he came back, he pretty much got things bang on.
There’s not much to be said about Wasim Jaffer. He is such a class act and he has done it so many times before. He scores a thousand runs in the season with little apparent effort. At the end of last season, he was doing pretty well in the ODIs as well and it has just carried on. When he is in the team, the opposition pretty much knows that they have their work cut out. Look at his scores – 835 runs in 7 matches, centuries in the quarter-finals and the final show just how important he was for us to set the tone of the match.
This was your first season as Mumbai captain… what was your greatest challenge?
It was difficult to begin with – I was appointed just 10-15 days before the start of the season. The selectors were changing. Generally, you are appointed in the off-season and you have time to plan. But that said, I didn’t really have too many problems in the first game – Zaheer, Sachin, Rohit, Ajinkya were all there. And I mean no disrespect to the Railways, but we just had too much quality. However, injuries meant that I missed a few games and there were some matches that should have probably had different results, but other than this – Mumbai’s Ranji team knows how to win and they want to more than the others.
What does Mumbai take away from this season – the 40th title, yes… but what more?
For me, the big thing was that everyone contributed. Almost 7-8 players had their best season and when that happens any team will be tough to beat. Nayar was fantastic, Wasim was classy… I’ve already mentioned that but Dhawal Kulkarni was very good with the new ball – 30 wickets at 22.90 has gone a little unnoticed. Hiken Shah’s 700-odd runs haven’t been spoken about a lot. And the times when Rohit Sharma played for us – he was pretty special as well. Aditya Tare – 842 runs at 49.52 with his wicket-keeping – has shown himself as a talent. Ankeet Chavan was very good too (33 wickets at an average of 28.75). He does have a lot to learn and the journey, in that sense, is just beginning. The take away for Mumbai is all of this. For a long time, Mumbai wondered who next? Now, perhaps we have a glimpse of our future stars.