Some other stats are even more telling. Bombay (Mumbai after the city was renamed) have been 46 times in the final of the Ranji Trophy, winning the title a mind-boggling 41 times in the 83-year history of the national tournament, including the first one in 1934-35.
This record includes a staggering run of 15 consecutive titles between 1958-59 and 1972-73. This was the period in which several topnotchers were on national duty in spite of which the standard did not slip.
It was this period of hegemony that earned world renown for the `Bombay School of Cricket’. What defines the strong ethos and tradition of this school – which has shaped the city’s many triumphs as well as the destiny of Indian cricket is important to consider at this juncture.
Bombay always had a strong sports culture, but more pronounced where cricket is concerned. While the sport was played all over the country after being introduced by the English colonialists, it grew the deepest roots in this city.
Bombay was – and still is – the quintessential `melting pot’ in India where people from all over the country mesh to create a unique identity for themselves. This is forged by the desire for excellence, which in turn assists in bettering livelihood.
As is well-known, the assimilation of cricket into Indian life came through the Parsis, who were largely resident in Bombay, in the second half of the 19th century. In fact, the first-ever team from India to tour England was made up entirely of Parsis, mainly from Bombay.
The Parsis were not necessarily the best exponents of the sport in India, but took to the sport wholeheartedly. Some say this was done to get closer to the colonial masters for jobs, business or simply social standing.
But whatever the reason, they were instrumental in popularizing the game. They formed clubs, organized matches and conducted tournaments which automatically opened up cricket to others. The response was phenomenal.
How skillful and adept Indians on the whole were at the sport became immediately evident and the popularity of cricket grew exponentially. That Indians wanted to beat the English at their own game – as an oblique means of fighting colonialism – was a strong factor in this growth.
Willy-nilly, Bombay became the hub of cricket in India. Towards the close of the 19th century (1895-1906) an annual contest between Europeans and Parsis – played alternately in Bombay and Poona -- was promoted by the Governor of Bombay Presidency.
In 1907, this tournament got a fillip when it was extended to include the Hindus and became a Triangular. This was to grow into the Quadrangular in 1912 when the Muslims were granted entry and subsequently evolved into a Pentagular by including a team comprising the `Rest’.
Though drawn on communal and political lines, these tournaments were played in an atmosphere of gaiety and celebration without compromising on serious competitiveness and became a landmark event in the city’s calendar. The Bombay foundation of the Bombay School of Cricket had been laid.
By the time the Ranji Trophy started in 1934-35, the first-ever Test match in India had been played in 1933-34. Unsurprisingly, the venue was the Bombay Gymkhana, reiterating the city’s growing stature as the home of cricket.
This was to be reinforced when the Cricket Club of India (promoted actually in Delhi in 1933) also came up in Bombay, not far from the Bombay Gymkhana. Brabourne Stadium at the CCI was to become the venue for domestic and international matches in the city for close to four decades before the Wankhede Stadium came up.
In the countdown to Independence, the Pentagular – because of its communal overtone – was dissolved. But by this time, Bombay’s position as the epicenter of the sport in India had been fairly established.
But it is not just high-class infrastructure that makes for excellence in sport. This has come because of the ability of players from Bombay, steeped, developed and distilled in the demanding ethos of everyday life in the city.
The hardship of commute, lack of open spaces, and the unfettered urge to get ahead in life drove players to excellence. Through cricket came not just recognition but also jobs. This honed the competitive edge of young players. They developed a pugnacity and tenacity which wasn’t to be found in cricketers from other cities.
The term `khadoos’ – which over the years has become a stereotype for a Mumbai cricketer – loosely means unrelenting. This was the default mindset of the Bombay cricketer. He wasn’t ever going to squander an opportunity through casualness.
Down the years, players like Vijay Merchant, Rusi Modi, Dilip Sardesai, Bapu Nadkarni, Ajit Wadekar, Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar, Sachin Tendulkar, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma and new sensation Prithvi Shaw have come to exemplify this.
But it was not only these big stars who made Bombay cricket what it was. There was a time when the national side would have 6-8 players from this city and absent from Ranji Trophy duty, yet Bombay would be supreme on the domestic scene. The never-say-die approach of players earned them the respect – and fear – of all opponents.
The never-say-die approach of players earned them the respect – and fear – of all opponents. Playing Bombay was a psychological hurdle at which players from across the country would stumble. The more astute would become avid learners and better cricketers.
Mumbai’s cricketing suzerainty has whittled down to some extent by the rise of cricketers from hinterland India – especially post-Libersalisation -- when the likes of MS Dhon, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh and others arrived.
Yet there is a flavour to Mumbai cricket that remains distinct. It still bespeaks excellence and showcases a rich, proud legacy that does not find parallel anywhere else perhaps anywhere else in the world.
(This article was written by the author for Mumbai Cricket Association's souvenir to commemorate the 500th match)
Ajinkya RahaneFrom the press boxmumbaiMumbai 500th GameMumbai Cricket associationranji trophyrohit sharmasachin tendulkarshreyas iyersunil gavaskar
First Published: November 9, 2017, 11:12 AM IST