Excitement is in the air in Mumbai cricketing circles as the city gets ready to welcome it's own cricket league. T20 Mumbai League will take place from 11 to 21 March at the iconic Wankhede Stadium. The prospect of a home league has left even Sachin Tendulkar, the brand ambassador, thrilled.
"Something like this was needed for Mumbai cricket," the Master Blaster said in a press-conference in the city. "Mumbai cricket has always led Indian cricket. The numbers are the biggest proof. I feel really, really happy to be a part of this league."
The League, conducted with the approval and sanction of the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA), will see six teams battling it out for the title — Mumbai North, Mumbai North-West, Mumbai North-East, Mumbai North-Central, Mumbai South-Central, and Mumbai South. Player auctions will also be conducted. The league has already attracted around 1500 applications.
Tendulkar was of the opinion that the league will act as a platform and catalyst for the youngsters to achieve greater things. The Master Blaster's career progressed gradually from city's maidans to gymkhanas and then to the stadiums, but he feels that there needs to be a launch pad and a platform for upcoming cricketers to express themselves and get into the limelight.
"I started playing cricket with tennis ball. And we formed our own ways of playing in the evening in the given limited time. But from there, every aspiring child needs to have a platform to express his talent. I think, this league is going to provide that opportunity," the 44-year-old said.
"This is where you flourish and suddenly, you never know, if you perform in this tournament, where it might lead to. The platform to express your talent is really important."
City's rich cricketing culture has seen school, college and club cricket lay a strong foundation for the beautiful edifice that is Mumbai cricket, step by step. But in a fast-paced era, there is a need for giant strides. This league may go on to provide those strides, but for that, Tendulkar believes, right commitment, passion and process are paramount.
"Yes, in Mumbai cricket we've got various tournaments happening but in today's day and age, everything is moving quick and fast, so everyone wants everything right now. Jokingly, I used to say you can either have it right or have it now, you can't have both (smiles).
"But we've managed to get this thing right, everyone is committed and that matters. Eventually, if all of us are passionate about doing something good for cricketers, results will take care of themselves as long as the processes are right. The later part is much easier. All the youngsters are excited about it and we are looking forward to it," the former India skipper added.
A visibly excited Tendulkar took a nostalgic route in explaining how cricket's growth has resulted in exciting opportunities in the modern era.
"Many, many years ago, as a youngster, we used to travel with Achrekar sir's team. We had Pravin Amre, who we all looked up to while we were still in school, while Pravin had graduated and moved on and started playing first-class cricket. We went to Sawantwadi.
"I remember Vinod was there with me and may other players were there and we were playing against some serious opposition which had the likes of Chandrakant Pandit and few other Ranji Trophy players. So for the (current) players of Mumbai to play against leading names, they will not have to travel to Sawantwadi, they will have to go to the Wankhede Stadium and play against them. Which is a big change."
The coming together of young and experienced minds — something which was key to Tendulkar's development as a youngster — promises to be the biggest talking point point of the league. In the past, Mumbai has been the conveyor belt of talented cricketers to the Indian team, and city's rich tradition of getting the youngsters to interact with senior players and coaches was a massive factor towards that end.
"Even today, we friends sit together and share the memories. There have been many instances that had happened not only just on the field but off it too. I was just 13-year-old, but those stories stay with you forever. While you are developing as a cricketer, developing as a person is equally important. And that thing you get to learn off the field," Sachin said.
"When different people come together, you get to learn a lot of things from each other. You develop your strengths and you grasp so many things. It's going to be fantastic for youngsters. Mumbai having won Ranji Trophy for 41 years, we've got terrific history. I still remember as a kid at Shivaji Park, Paddy sir (Padmakar Shivalkar) would come and bowl to me, he was thrice my age at that time, so such things happen in Mumbai and it could be nice if the youngsters are playing along side some big names in Mumbai cricket. They get to learn and that is something that I am looking forward to."
"First and the foremost thing I cannot forget is my cricket started in Mumbai, and from here I want on to play for India, which was always my dream but the roots started here," Tendulkar added.
In the past, the hesitation in choosing sport as a career stemmed from financial constraints and lack of opportunities. Many talents couldn't flourish and careers were cut short, but with the advent of different leagues, the financial insecurities have minimised. According to Tendulkar, the T20 Mumbai league will not only help provide a platform to display their skills but also bring in financial security which will encourage more youngsters to take up sports as a sustainable career.
"I still remember, earlier, there were so many names in Mumbai cricket that should have played for India but at that given moment, there wasn't a spot available for them, but they were good, really, really good and would have gone on to play for India. Similarly, there were so many club cricketers who could have played Ranji Trophy for Mumbai and they didn't get to do that.
"So today, I think if you play these leagues, even if you don't go and play Ranji Trophy, you can still look after your family. And that is the most important thing for any individual. If you can look after your family, make them feel secure financially and be the backbone of the family, it's the greatest feeling anyone can get. And that's why I feel this league is here to stay and it has opened up many doors for youngsters, not just cricketers but also the coaching staff, be it the physios, doctors etc, it's a package deal, a lot of things happen around that and that is why I am excited about this league," Tendulkar signed off.