India played their 500th Test match last year, becoming only the fourth team after the original two – England and Australia – and West Indies/Windies to get to the milestone. The opposition was New Zealand. In Kanpur. India won by 197 runs, marking the occasion fittingly.
That was the fourth week of September. A year and some on, the part of India that has been the biggest centre for the sport over the years, becoming almost synonymous with it in many ways, played their 500th Ranji Trophy match. The first to get there. Not surprising, given that Mumbai (earlier Bombay) have played the title round more often than anyone else, by far – 46 times – and have won it more often than anyone else, again by far – 41 times. In 83 editions. The respective corresponding numbers for No. 2 are 14 and eight – for Mysore/Karnataka.
It’s the sort of record that should have made the trophy Mumbai’s for keeps, a la Brazil and the Jules Rimet Cup. That hasn’t happened. Maybe the Board of Control for Cricket in India can consider doing it when Mumbai get to No. 50 and then rename the tournament after someone more ‘Indian’ than the Jam Saheb of Nawanagar, making Mumbai the permanent owners of the trophy.
Anyway, a whole other discussion that. Coming to the point, Mumbai certainly didn’t mark No. 500 with anything too special. Or so you’d think, seeing that they were on the brink of an innings defeat for the longest time. But how can you not count the back-from-the-dead fightback led by Siddhesh Lad on the final day that allowed them to leave their Wankhede Stadium with at least one point, and not zero, and gave Baroda just three points, not the seven they might have had?
Special it certainly was. For it reintroduced us to that old cliché about Bombay/Mumbai cricket – khadoos. Stubborn.
Khadoos is more complex than just stubborn, though. An element of the niggardly, a touch of rude, perhaps even snobbish. Essentially, it adds up to a person or an entity that won’t concede an inch, and fight tooth and nail to swing the deal their way.
Now set that template against Mumbai’s performance on Sunday.
Between them, Lad and the rest of the Mumbai batsmen faced 91.4 overs on the final day of the Baroda game. In these, they scored 158 runs and lost just three wickets. Run rate: 1.73. Fall of wickets: One every 30.46 overs.
Lad faced 238 balls for his 71 not out from No. 7. That’s a strike-rate of 29.83. And he wasn’t the slowest around either. Overnight batsmen Ajinkya Rahane scored his 45 runs at a strike-rate of 33.58 and Suryakumar Yadav got 44 at 33.33. But Abhishek Nayar scored eight runs in well over two hours after dead-batting 108 balls – a strike-rate of 7.40. And Dhawal Kulkarni scored two not out in 31 balls – 6.45.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is khadoos. In modern-day Indian politicspeak: Na khayenge, na khane denge (Won’t eat, won’t let anyone eat – in the context of corruption). Mumbai didn’t have a hope in hell of winning the damn thing. But they sure as hell weren’t going to lose. Mumbai cricket. In a nutshell.
Makarand Waingankar, in his A Million Broken Windows: The Magic and Mystique of Bombay Cricket, calls it the never-say-die attitude. “The khadoos attitude of Bombaikars is their never-say-die spirit – the attitude of never accepting defeat in advance, of struggling to the end. This attitude is intrinsic to [a] Bombaikar’s life. It is something that every citizen of Bombay grows up with,” he writes.
Bombay, Mumbai … India’s Promised Land. A city where youngsters from all over the country go for a shot at making it.
Most don’t make it, and the story of Mumbai is actually built around them. Many do too. But the harshness of the daily cheek-by-jowl existence, the single-minded pursuit of something, makes the people of the city who they are and the city what it is. Where fortune can smile on the least privileged and make a star of a 40-watt bulb. At the same time, it is a city that can leave you defeated, left to try and make ends meet through the daily grind of the local trains and matchbox-like chawls.
The ones that make it, business – legit or not – or in showbiz or cricket, are acknowledged as the tougher ones.
But, I wonder, is this Mumbai team anything like those Bombay/Mumbai teams? They won their 100th, 200th, 300th and 400th games in the Ranji Trophy. Their 500th almost went away from them. I wonder if many players from this XI – bar Rahane and Shreyas Iyer and Prithvi Shaw – would have excited the old-timers much. Waingankar, for example. That’s only indicative of the changing times, when the game has picked up pace in other parts of the country and, maybe, hasn’t kept its stature in Mumbai despite the iconic – almost mythical – Shivaji Park and Azad Maidan and Cross Maidan and Cricket Club of India and everything else.
No, cricket in the city isn’t quite what it was. But, then again, I had counted Mumbai out when they lost by an innings and 44 runs to Tamil Nadu during the 2014-15 Ranji Trophy. It was, after all, only the fourth time in the history of the tournament – dating back to 1934-35, which Bombay won – that the team had lost a match by an innings. But, come February 28, 2016 – just over a year after I wrote that edition of Jiminy Cricket – Mumbai had won the tournament. Again. They had beaten Saurashtra by an innings and 21 runs in the final, played in Pune.
Right now, it looks like they might not make the knockouts of the 2017-18 edition. But two good hits, and they might be there.
You wouldn’t bet against khadoos Mumbai pulling that off, would you? And, once they are there, you’d have to be a brave, brave person to bet against them making it No. 42. They might be off the boil, sure, but it’s Mumbai. Bombay. The ultimate competitors. The landmark 500th game didn’t quite pan out the way the hard-nosed Mumbaikar would have liked, sure, but think about it: It did in a way, didn’t it?