It was nothing short of shocking to see Mumbai being knocked out of the Ranji Trophy in the quarter-finals by Maharashtra. But, it was also a clear pointer towards the fact that Mumbai has entered its rebuilding phase. The recent retirements of stalwarts Sachin Tendulkar and Ajit Agarkar has meant that Wasim Jaffer is the only link to golden era of Mumbai cricket dating back to the 90s. And, this is one of the key reasons why Mumbai stumbled in their quarter-final clash against Maharashtra, and had to pay the price by losing the tag of defending champions.
Mumbai have always been reliant on experienced opener and former skipper Jaffer. But, this time, with Agarkar and Tendulkar out of the equation, the team was overly dependent on Jaffer to deliver. The veteran batsman continued to prosper as usual, but his luck ran out in the quarter-finals, and Mumbai couldn’t recover without him. Even in the first innings against Maharashtra, Jaffer showed a lot of resolve, and his 44 saw Mumbai get off to a decent start. But, once he fell for a rare duck in the second innings, Mumbai collapsed and Maharashtra eased to victory thereafter.
Mumbai need not panic over the loss since this was bound to happen sometime or the other. Other the last couple of decades, Mumbai have been blessed to have had quality players like Jaffer, Tendulkar, Kambli, Mhambrey, Kulkarni, Powar and Agarkar among others, all of whom have represented India at some point or the other. But, in the current squad, only Jaffer and skipper Zaheer Khan are seasoned players. Abhishek Nayar and Iqbal Abdulla have the experience, but they are yet to attain the kind of consistency some of the other Mumbai greats have reached over the years.
In the clash against Maharashtra, it was the inexperienced batting that eventually let them down. Suryakumar Yadav showed that he is one for the future with a belligerent century in the first innings and Vinit Indulkar brought his experience into play as he hit a bright 82, also in the first essay. However, it was in the second innings that the lack of big-match experience in the batting really came to fore. Once the openers Jaffer and Kaustubh Pawar were dismissed cheaply, they faltered completely. Unlike in the past, the middle-order did have the kind of solidity needed to stage a fight back.
In contrast, Maharashtra had the resources and talent to outdo the defending champions. In the first innings, Ankit Bawne’s 84 took them to a respectable total. Their bowlers then combined brilliantly to skittle Mumbai in the second innings. Only three bowlers were used but Fallah, Sanklecha and Mundhe combined to keep Mumbai on the mat. They were facing a stiff target to book their place in the last four. But, the inexperience of Kedar Jadhav and the exuberance of Vijay Zol was enough for them to make the Mumbai attack look pedestrian. --By A Cricket Analyst