Mumbai will play in their 44th Ranji Trophy final starting tomorrow. Saurashtra will be playing their first. David could not be any smaller than Goliath. The game will be played at the Wankhede Stadium, and Saurashtra will be without Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravindra Jadeja while Mumbai will have Sachin Tendulkar, tilting the scales even further towards the home side.
Ranji finals have more often than not been one-sided affairs or boring draws decided on the basis of a first-inning lead. But sometimes, not often, the final has delivered exciting cricket. At Firstpost , we look back at the four finals we think have been the most exciting in Ranji history. With Mumbai having played in two-third of them, it is no surprise they feature in three of the four matches.
1954-55: Madras beat Holkar by 46 runs
Madras were heavy underdogs. Holkar had won four of the last nine championships. Madras were playing in only their third final. Holkar had three India internationals plus BB Nimbalker, whose 443 is still the Ranji record. Madras had CD Gopinath (though Kripal Singh would go on to play for India). To top it off, the match was being played in Indore.
After Holkar put them in, Madras managed 478 thanks to Gopinath’s 133 and a last-wicket partnership of 65, with No. 10 AK Sarangapani making an unbeaten 74, his highest ever first-class score. Holkar responded with 417 so Madras led by 61 runs.
In the second innings, Madras were struggling at 234 for 9 when last man MK Murugesh joined their captain RB Alaganan. Legend has it that Murugesh reportedly told Alaganan, “don’t treat me as a tailender, I will stay with you.” The pair added 77 together to push their score to 311 before Murugesh fell for 36 while Alaganan remained unbeaten on 56.
Murugesh and Kripal then turned destroyers with the ball, taking nine wickets between them as Holkar were bowled out for 326. The Maharaja of Holkar was so sure of victory that he had prepared a speech. Instead, he left without saying a word. It would be another 33 years before Madras (now Tamil Nadu) would win the title again.
1984-85: Bombay beat Delhi by 90 runs
Everywhere you looked, there was an Indian international. Sunil Gavaskar, Madan Lal, Kirti Azad, Ravi Shastri, Chetan Chauhan, Maninder Singh and Manoj Prabhakar all played in this game, so there was no question of an easy win for either side.
Mumbai won the toss and naturally chose to bat. They lost three quick wickets but Gavaskar, batting in the middle-order, anchored the innings with 106 as Bombay cobbled together 333. Rajiv Kulkarni nipped out four Delhi batsmen for just 65, and and at 87 for 5, it looked like Bombay had things well in control. However, a century from Ajay Sharma and Chauhan’s 98 at the top of the order took Delhi past Mumbai to 398.
Knowing an outright win was the only way to lift the trophy, Bombay went at four runs an over – quick for that era – and four half-centuries from the middle order – Shastri’s 76 being the best – allowed them to declare at 364 for 6, leaving Delhi 302 to win.
Chauhan and Prabhakar gave the visitors a solid start, adding 95 together, but then Shastri took over with his left-arm spin. He dismissed Chauhan and Prabhakar, then bowled Kirti Azad for a duck. From 95 for no loss, Delhi slumped to 122 for 4 Bhaskar Pillai and Surinder Khanna cobbled together a 49-run partnership before Shastri struck again, luring Khanna out of his crease to be stumped by Chandrakant Pandit. The rest fell away as Shastri finished with 8 for 91 from 39.5 overs, his best figures for an innings in first-class cricket. Six Delhi batsmen were dismissed for single digits as Bombay pulled off a victory that was much less comfortable than it looked.
1990-1991: Haryana beat Bombay by two runs
The lasting image of the final remains a crestfallen Vengsarkar in tears as he trudged back to the dressing room, his unbeaten 139 (from 137 balls) having gone in vain.
The game truly had everything: high stakes, top players, brilliant batting and a nail-biting finish. Kapil Dev was leading Haryana while Dilip Vengsarkar was aiming to end Mumbai’s five year title-drought. The final also featured an 18-year-old called Sachin Tendulkar. Haryana batted first and racked up 522, thanks to Deepak Sharma’s 199 and Chetan Sharma’s 98 at no 9.
Mumbai replied with 410, with Sanjay Patil topscoring with 85 while Yogendra Bhandari took five wickets. That’s when the fun began. Knowing only an outright win would do, Mumbai rolled Haryana for 242, leaving them needing 355 in just over three hours plus 20 mandatory overs.
Abay Kuruvilla, who made his debut in that game, said he had never seen such a crowd. “The atmosphere was fantastic. The Wankhede stadium was packed on the last day, the second last day. All the top players playing for India were playing in the match. It was a big, big game.”
Mumbai slumped to 34 for 3 in their chase but Tendulkar changed the game. He took on the Haryana bowlers, including Kapil, and raced to 96 from 75 balls before he was caught. “Sachin’s knock was unbelievable, Kuruviall said. “In an hour, hour and a half, he made 96 and played his shots at will against all the bowlers.”
After Tendulkar departed, it was left to Vengsarkar to take Mumbai home. When Kuruvilla joined him as the last man, Mumbai still needed 49 to win. Vengsarkar promptly ransacked Bhandari for 6,4,6,6,4. “Dilip was absolutely brilliant. One of the best innings you could ever see,” Kuruvilla said. “I just wanted to stay not out. Vengsarkar was at the other end and I knew he would get the runs. That is what happened. I was just blocking.”
The pair brought the target down to three from 14 balls when a horrible mix-up between Kuruvilla and Lalchand Rajput, who was running for Vengsarkar (who had cramps), saw Kuruvilla be run out. “Unfortunately, the run-out happened. Otherwise we would have won with two overs to spare. Neither side deserved to lose that game.”
2009-10: Mumbai beat Karnataka by six runs
Dwindling crowds for domestic cricket in the metros led to the final being played in Mysore and it was a masterstroke. Fans flocked to the Gangotri Glades ground and were rewarded with one of the best finals ever.
It was a game dominated by the fast bowlers. Karnataka seamers Abhimanyu Mithun and Vinay Kumar took 16 wickets between them while the three Mumbai seamers also took 16 wickets combined. Having decided to bat first, Mumbai were in all sorts of trouble at 20 for 3 and then 100 for 5. Vinayak Samant, batting at no 5, dropped anchor and eked out 67 crucial runs from 227 balls and a late push from the tail bumped Mumbai from 184 for 8 to 233.
Having dismissed Mumbai for a sub-par total, the home side would have anticipated a first-innings lead but they had not reckoned with Avishkar Salvi, who ripped out the heart of the batting line-up with 5 for 31 as Karnataka tumbled to 130 all out.
The low scores meant a draw was not on the cards and Karnataka fought back immediately through Mithun, who reduced Mumbai to 51 for 5 before the lower-order came to Mumbai’s rescue again. Abhishek Nayar and Dhawal Kulkarni batted for more than 20 overs to prevent any further losses on a day when 15 wickets fell.
Nayar would bat for over three and a half hours for his 50, while Kulkarni pushed on to make 87. Their efforts enabled Mumbai to set Karnataka a target of 338.
With plenty of time left, the question for Karnataka was how to survive on a pitch that was still offering plenty to the fast bowlers. When Robin Uthappa departed for 4 to leave Karnataka 46 for 3, the answer seemed to be eluding the hosts. That’s when Gautam Satish and Manish Pandey turned the game on its head, adding 209 for the fourth wicket and seemingly taking the game away from Mumbai.
Pandey raced to 144 from 151 balls, striking 18 fours and a six and sending the crowd into raptures and the Mumbai bowlers into despair. In a last ditch attempt, Mumbai brought on left-arm spinner Iqbal Abdulla, who induced Pandey into jabbing one to slip. Amit Verma and Satish followed in quick succession as Karnataka slipped to 260 for 6.
Stuart Binny and Sunil Joshi then inched towards the target, adding 36 vital runs and seemingly swinging the game back Karnataka’s way. That’s when Mumbai took the second new ball and prised out the last four wickets to leave Karnataka agonizingly short of the finish line.