Mumbai, the 40-time Ranji Trophy champions, have defeated Delhi, India’s other traditional domestic powerhouse, 10 times. They have taken the first-innings lead on nine occasions and shared points once in their 26 meetings since March 1956. But the intensity of the rivalry between 1970-71 and 1991-92 when the scoreline in 12 knockout games read Mumbai 7 - Delhi 5, drew comparisons with the red roses clash between Lancashire and Yorkshire in the English County Championship.
Before their 2014-15 quarter-finals at the DRIEMS Stadium in Cuttack starting from Monday (February 16), some former players and senior journalists from the two cities spoke to Wisden India about the tug of war between the two, and then gazed into their crystal balls.
The genesis of the rivalry
Bishan Singh Bedi (Joined Delhi in 1968-69 and led them to their first two Ranji titles): When I started playing, Mumbai, who had a large representation in the national team, dominated. Then, something within us sparked that we too can excel, and things started to fall in place.
Madan Lal (Represented Delhi in 12 matches against Mumbai): Bishan paaji instilled a self-belief in us that Mumbai were beatable. If it was a final we also played the Irani Cup that put us in national focus.
KP Bhaskar (One of only three Delhi batsmen to score a double-century against Mumbai): Bishan paaji brought the Amarnath brothers (Mohinder and Surinder), Madi pa (Madan), Chetan Chauhan and formed the nucleus, before local talents found their roots.
Vijay Lokapally (Senior cricket journalist from Delhi): A duel between Bedi and Sunil Gavaskar was the ultimate sight on the cricket field, so fascinating that even the players looked forward to it.
Sahil Kukreja (Mumbai opener, who scored his best of 229 not out against Delhi): Mumbai and Delhi are India’s two biggest metros. They are always in the news, the rich and famous stay there, and mostly everyone travels to these two cities from abroad. The rivalry has more to it than the cricket.
Some memorable knockout encounters
1976-77 Final (Feroz Shah Kotla, Delhi)
Karsan Ghavri made 48 and an unbeaten 70, and he and Padmakar Shivalkar shared 18 wickets between them in Mumbai’s 129-run win.
Ghavri: It was a star-studded final in front of a Test match type crowd (only Dilip Vengsarkar missed out because of his final year examination). There was little strategy, but the short ball ploy against Hari Gidwani, Chetan Chauhan and Madan worked for us. In fact, when Madan came out to bat in the first innings, Shivalkar and I were bowling spin with the old ball but Sunil (Gavaskar) asked me to switch back to medium pace. It paid off and we took a lead.
1978-79 Semifinal (Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai)
A young Sunil Valson accounted for three top-order Mumbai batsmen to give Delhi, the eventual champions, a lead of 30 runs.
Valson: I could barely walk after hurting myself in a friendly game in college a week before the semifinal, but Bishan insisted that I play and used to accompany me to the hospital in Mumbai. He thought my pace could surprise the Mumbai batsmen, who had not faced me earlier. Even though I was in severe pain on the eve of the match, Bishan said, “Son, I need 10 overs from you and then you can sit out." Thankfully, we batted first, giving me some extra rest, and then I removed Gavaskar, my idol, in the very first over for a duck. The wickets of Dilip Vengsarkar and Sandeep Patil followed and I left the ground after bowling 15 overs.
1979-80 Final (Feroz Shah Kotla)
Mohinder Amarnath (191) and Kirti Azad (102) set the base for what remains Delhi’s only outright win over Mumbai till date.
Azad: I was bit overawed at the start as it was my maiden final and first match against Mumbai, but I hit three sixes off the great Paddy Shivalkar to go from 84 to 102. With nerves settled, I ended up with six wickets in the game.
1980-81 Final (Wankhede Stadium)
Balwinder Singh Sandhu reduced Delhi to 18 for 5 in the first hour, and then Ashok Mankad made his highest individual score of 265 as Mumbai regained the title with a massive innings win.
Maninder Singh (Playing his third first-class match): Ashok Mankad kept telling me well-bowled paaji and hit me for a boundary almost every over. Only later did I know that he was cleverly ensuring that I stayed on in the attack.
1983-84 Final (Wankhede Stadium)
Mumbai took the lead on the back of Gavaskar’s unbeaten 206 from No.5 and Dilip Vengsarkar’s 123.
Bhaskar: Sunny bhai was cheesed off with the way Dilip bhai threw away his wicket, having been dropped in the same spot off the previous delivery, and he took out the frustration on us. He was on 160 odd when Raju Kulkarni, the last man, joined him. How craftily he found a boundary every over and took a single off the last ball was worth learning from. Earlier, Manoj (Prabhakar) had dropped a caught and bowled chance off him when he was in his fifties, and immediately we dreaded the consequences.
1984-85 Final (Wankhede Stadium)
Gavaskar’s 106 was followed by Delhi taking the lead, but on a dramatic final day Ravi Shastri scalped eight victims and gave Mumbai a 90-run win.
Bhaskar: Sunny bhai had returned a day earlier after winning the Rothmans Cup in Sharjah, but was the first to reach the ground. It tells you how much honour was at stake.
Clayton Murzello (Senior cricket journalist from Mumbai): Raju Kulkarni told me that after the fourth evening Kirti asked Shastri if the trophy was polished as Delhi would be taking it home next day. On the final morning, Gavaskar was unwell so Shastri, the stand-in captain, delivered an inspirational speech and walked the talk on the field. In the evening, the team celebrated at Gavaskar’s residence.
Chetan Chauhan (Made 98 and 54 opening Delhi’s innings): The pressure was huge and the memories are painful. I got a rough caught behind decision against me in the second dig, and after that the innings collapsed. It was my last match, and I desperately wanted to win the title and retire on a high.
Lalchand Rajput (Played seven matches against Delhi): It is among the most stirring days in Mumbai cricket’s history.
1988-89 Semi-final (Wankhede Stadium)
Manu Nayyar and Prabhakar, Delhi’s openers, scored hundreds and Maninder picked up seven wickets to give them the lead.
Bhaskar: More than the win, I remember the first sighting of Sachin Tendulkar. On a rank turner, the way he played with and against the spin to make 78 was enjoyable.
1990-91 Quarter-final (Feroz Shah Kotla)
Mumbai made 390, and then Sanjay Patil ran through Delhi’s tail to dismiss them for 389.
Bhaskar: The Ranji Trophy had been postponed because of court issues related to the Punjab insurgency and the final clashed with the flying date of most of the Delhi players for the English league season. I requested the then Delhi and District Cricket Association secretary to grant permission, and take a call closer to the final, if we qualified. I don’t know if the background impacted our performance, but I was heartbroken as a captain.
Amol Muzumdar (Ranji Trophy’s most-capped cricketer): I was quite young and following the game on the radio. I was at the Mumbai Cricket Association office when we received the news of the one-run lead, and everyone got euphoric.
1991-92 Semi-final (Wankhede Stadium)
Bhaskar’s 221 and Maninder’s five-wicket haul gave Delhi the lead.
Bhaskar: It was sweet revenge. Abey Kuruvilla had created early dents and we were 44 for 3. It was a typical Mumbai pitch, and being a back-footer helped me to negotiate Abey’s pace and bounce. The 121-run partnership with Kirti was the turning point.
1996-97 Final (Captain Roop Singh Stadium, Gwalior)
In what remains the only day and night first-class match played in India, Muzumdar (144), Jatin Paranjape (111) and Nilesh Kulkarni (four wickets) constructed Mumbai’s 71-run lead for another title.
Muzumdar: The pressure in my first Delhi game, who had some domestic kings in their line-up, was terrific. The galleries were almost full, but only a handful of family members were supporting us. I started throwing my bat around after the tail joined me, but Sanjay Manjrekar sent a stern message asking me to bat sensibly and collect as many runs possible. I put my head down and we made 630.
Paranjape: I had failed against Delhi in my first season and was keen to redeem myself when we played them after five years. I remember the ball just did not get old. That century against that attack was quite special.
Sairaj Bahutule (He played nine matches against Delhi): Nilesh bowled almost the entire day on the trot from over the wicket to a legside field and contained the batsmen. Delhi were 365 for 2 after the fourth night and Sanjay, who led brilliantly, pointed out in the team meeting that if we didn’t pick up wickets they could actually chase down the target.
The camaraderie and respect
Bedi: The mutual admiration and respect for each other’s talent made Delhi and Mumbai cricketers good friends off the field. From a larger perspective, the healthy rivalry benefitted Indian cricket significantly.
Maninder: Gavaskar and Vengsarkar were the most difficult to bowl to, but they helped me improve my game.
Rajput: Mohinder Amarnath’s wicket was a prized one, but Raman Lamba was a very difficult customer to get rid of.
Bahutule: Bowling to Ajay Sharma, Bhaskar Pillai, Lamba and Ashu Dani, who had tons of runs behind them, early in my career was a big learning curve.
Kukreja: (Virender) Sehwag made me realise the level of difference between both of us.
Crystal Ball Gazing
Muzumdar: Delhi, alongside Karnataka, are the title favourites this season, and only Mumbai can stop them. Mumbai are always dangerous in knockout games. Allow them a lease of life and they will latch on to you.
Maninder: The Delhi boys are high on confidence after so many wins, but it will eventually boil down to how they handle the pressure of a big game.