The last time Mumbai lost a Ranji Trophy final was to a side led by Kapil Dev, all the way back in 1991.
In modern cricket terms, that is 13 World Cups ago, if you count T20s, a format that was still 12 years away then. India has had eight Test captains since then, spanning nearly 250 Tests. We could go on and on with this, but one can only imagine, gape, and marvel at the thought of a side not losing the most important do-or-die domestic fixture for over a quarter of a century.
In this period, they have added a further 11 titles to their ever-expanding kitty, which stands at 41 successful conquests from 46 Ranji finals. Entire first-class careers – such as those of their highest run-scorers Amol Muzumdar and Wasim Jaffer – have passed by, without a single defeat in a final. In short, they are a quasi-utopian juggernaut that demolishes any resistance in its path, a Ship of Theseus that keeps replacing missing parts seamlessly every time there’s a void.
It is not for want of trying. Ask Tamil Nadu about how their optimism has been crushed every single time in the knock-out phases. Ask Manish Pandey and Karnataka, whose superhuman efforts in familiar home conditions didn't suffice in the summit clash. If Dilip Vengsarkar didn’t get them, Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli would. Once against Punjab, the duo helped post over 1100 runs, to win on first-innings lead. If those two didn’t get you, Muzumdar or Jaffer would. Mostly though, Mumbai did not need the first-innings lead rule itself, sending opponents reeling, inflicting massive defeats, often by an innings and more.
Bowlers would deliver with 4-fers, 5-fers, or 7-fers. The fielding, almost always, would be at the top of its game. If, by some chance, they squandered first-innings leads, opponents would be worried more, for the second innings onslaught from the khadoos army would only be that much more severe. There never seemed any mercy, any chance of complacency, anything that would allow an opponent to sniff a chance of victory.
On Saturday, 14 January, all of that changed. They dropped catches consistently, as a tight fourth-innings chase of 312 was hunted down with ease by Parthiv Patel’s Gujarat. There was nothing in this game that Mumbai hadn’t faced before. Yes, they had conceded a 100-run first-innings lead. Yes, there were set openers at close on Day 4. Someone would turn up on the final morning and the Ranji Trophy would be gift wrapped a little after lunch. At least, that’s the story we’re all used to.
Balwinder Sandhu snared a couple of wickets early in the morning, and they were on their way. Except, they let their guard down after that on the field. Disciplined bowling was rendered toothless by consistently mediocre catching and ground fielding. At one point, there was a Parthiv Patel top edge, with the game still in the balance, which was not even attempted by spinner Vijay Gohil. It was a half-chance, but it was a half-chance Mumbai are known to snare nine out of 10 times. Some fielder walked past the stumps at the end of the over, commenting at Gohil, asking him if he expected everything to come to his hands.
Shardul Thakur was so jaded towards the end he started sending wide bouncers down leg for four runs. Even the captain Aditya Tare put one down and let it run on to a helmet for five runs. Gujarat’s Rujul Bhatt had more lives than the luckiest cat on earth, and Patel was only too happy to put in one of those virtuoso, match-winning performances.
Innings of Patel’s ilk have come in Mumbai’s way in the past, only to be rendered useless eventually. The Gujarat captain knew this only too well, not raising his bat on reaching his 50, with more than 170 runs still to chase. Even after getting to his 25th First Class ton, he barely signaled to his dressing room. Crazier collapses had been inflicted by his opponents, and with a brittle lower-middle order to come, he was cautious with his acknowledgement of the milestone.
When he eventually went, he was frustrated about not seeing it through till the very end, and walked back a dejected man. For context, he had scored 143 of the required 312 runs, and Gujarat only needed 13 to get past the finish line at that point.
Mumbai’s gradual meltdown on the final day still feels barely believable, and, while with their inexperienced bowling attack this is still a creditable achievement, they are not a side who have ever settled for silver.
It is an outcome few predicted, given Gujarat were without strike bowler Jasprit Bumrah, and could well give Parthiv Patel’s international career a much-deserved second wind.
Such was his dominance with the bat and doggedness while captaining on Day 4, you could say that Parthiv Patel made his own luck with an endless stream of inside-edged boundaries. As Aditya Tare remarked, Mumbai only had themselves to blame at the end of a landmark day in their opponents’ history, and that of India’s premier first-class competition.
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