'First and foremost, it is a good thing that Mumbai T20 league is happening. It gives the players a lot of opportunities and the stage to show their talent and perform, and if they do well they can only go higher up,' said Lalchand Rajput, mentor of the Mumbai North East franchise.
It may not have the razzmatazz of an Indian Premier League (IPL), the long list of marquee names being tossed up, the jaw-dropping sums of rupees being pledged, and the team names remind you of railway zones instead of capturing your imagination.
Yet, the auction war is no less intense, neck and neck and cut-throat. That's the Mumbai T20 league for you — in more ways than one, a micro version of the behemoth that is the IPL.
Indeed much the same way as Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, Mumbai now has a T20 league of its own, which would be held from 11-21 March, with the backing of the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA), with teams from Mumbai North, Mumbai North-West, Mumbai North-East, Mumbai North-Central, Mumbai South-Central and Mumbai South in the fray.
And on Saturday some big names went under the hammer at the St Regis Hotel in India's financial capital, as well as those heard little of. There were greenhorns rubbing shoulders with seasoned campaigners of Indian and Mumbai cricket, but the enthusiasm among the team owners for the former set of players was no less than that for the superstars.
So you saw bidding wars over a Sagar Trivedi, Prathmesh Dake and Eknath Kerkar similar to that you would imagine for a Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane or Prithvi Shaw. There were pumping of the fists among the team owners after a successful purchase, the stature of the player notwithstanding.
For the record, some of the big names sold at the auction were Rohit for Rs 6 lakh (Mumbai North West), Rahane for Rs 7 lakh (Mumbai North), Suryakumar Yadav for Rs 7 lakh (Mumbai North East), Shreyas Iyer for Rs 5 lakh (Mumbai North Central), Abhishek Nayar for Rs 4 lakh (Mumbai South), Shaw for Rs 2.8 lakh (Mumbai North), Siddhesh Lad for Rs 4 lakh (Mumbai South Central).
But the bigger picture was the push the league is expected give to Mumbai cricket and the tremendous launch pad that it would provide to the youngsters, some of whom would never have come into focus in the otherwise incredibly competitive Indian cricket sphere.
"Mumbai is considered to be the Mecca of Indian cricket. If you see the history of Indian cricket, we have won the Ranji Trophy 41 times. So that speaks volumes of Mumbai cricket. Mumbai cricket has produced icon players, world-class players.
"So it was very imperative that we had this Premier League. Tamil Nadu had started it, Karnataka had started it, so it was high-time that we had our own Premier League and it is now going to happen and we are all excited about it and I am sure we will get players from this league playing for Mumbai and the Indian team," said Lalchand Rajput, the mentor of Mumbai North East, in an exclusive chat to Firstpost.
Rajput has been a noted coach for both the senior and Under-19 Indian teams, and also in the IPL. One remembers that he was the manager of the Indian team that won the inaugural edition of the World T20 in 2007. And he sounded extremely upbeat on the impact the Mumbai T20 league may have on the youngsters.
"First and foremost, it is a good thing that the Mumbai T20 league is happening. It gives the players a lot of opportunities and the stage to show their talent and perform, and if they do well they can only go higher up. It is a big platform for them. Those who don't get an opportunity will get some money and cricketing experience," noted Rajput.
Atul Ranade, the coach of Mumbai North East, echoed Rajput's sentiment on the effect the league may have on young cricketers from the city.
"It is phenomenal. It is a war out there when the top clubs participate in the A and B divisions. This goes right up to G and H divisions and this is not recent, but going on for the past maybe 40-50 years. I have held my father's hand and gone to Azad Maidan when he used to play for a club that belonged to the great Vijay Merchant.
"Similarly there are thousands and lakhs of kids who want to do something in this game, and you look at the IPL and the Big Bash (League); in every country there is a massive league coming up. Recently you have heard the ICC giving the right to Canada to hold its own T20. So I think T20 is here to stay and the players and the league will both get bigger," said Ranade.
What are your expectations from this league, I asked him. "As you can see, the brand ambassador of the league is Sachin Tendulkar. So with the bhagwan of Indian cricket and world cricket sitting on top of the league and blessing the league, it is always going to go from strength to strength. I am sure he will be there to guide and help the youngsters and the teams," said the Mumbai North East coach, before adding, "It will be growing and I see it growing very, very well. And overall, instead of expecting massive results from the first year itself, you should see it as a platform mainly for the local players. So at least there is something in place put by the MCA for the players and there would be other players who would be looking up to these players and would be improving the game overall."
The chat then moved on to the topic of franchise-based leagues. Is active involvement of franchises and corporate houses in the game something that we would be seeing more often in the future? Today, we have even experimented with a T10 league, with reasonable success.
"That's right. There are a lot of corporates who don't have time to even play T20. T20 takes four hours to complete while a T10 takes two hours to complete. So for people who have even lesser time, they enjoy T10. There is nothing wrong with that and as long as they enjoy the game, using the format to the best of their abilities. Whatever they play they enjoy, that is the most important part," opined Ranade.
"Franchises will have to come in because they have the money and we always believe that the players should benefit. Players who can't make it to the Ranji Trophy, how can they come into the Ranji Trophy (is the question). So this is a very good opportunity and a platform for these players to showcase their performance so that they can go higher up," weighed in Rajput.
Jai Kedia of Transcon Developers Private Limited, which owns the Mumbai North East franchise, gave us his reasoning behind investing in this venture.
"Obviously it is one of the biggest tournaments you can get in Mumbai. We expected to come up to almost the level of the IPL. It will give a chance to all the Mumbaikars."
He also acknowledged that the Mumbai T20 League will be a massive platform for budding talents from the city to showcase their wares and make an impression on the people who matter. "We had written down a few names. They may not have come to us, people like Jay Bista... we expect them to play the IPL soon enough because this is really a good platform for them," said Kedia.
"Obviously being the first year, it is yet to take off. You can expect that since the IPL is also coming up, the craze will be there. But this is something we really see building up. You might have seen the TNPL in Tamil Nadu. It is picking up. So we expect a lot. This year some of the marquee players won't be available due to the clash of schedule.
"Next year onwards it is going to be happening. You can expect a lot more players. This is massive and it is going to get bigger. This is where new stars will be born. So you can expect a lot more fanfare from next year onwards," explained Kedia.
So the mood is positive among the stakeholders, with an acknowledgement of the fact that a T20 league in Mumbai was long overdue and it is a fantastic stage for local talent. One can hardly wait for the action to begin.
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