In the 1990’s, when cricket was the only sport that consumed us, I was a big supporter of the Maharashtra Cricket team. I was told that the last time Maharashtra won the Ranji Trophy was in 1941. The grand old sage of Indian cricket, Professor DB Deodhar led the team to its last Ranji Trophy victory a year after India’s independence. Since then Maharashtra’s pursuit of the Ranji Trophy was a tale of struggle and failure.
For some reason Maharashtra has never been a powerhouse of Indian cricket and has always suffered in comparison with its illustrious rival Mumbai. Mumbai has won numerous Ranji Trophies and has had many of its players don the India colors. Apart from its failure in the national competition, Maharashtra players had to suffer the disappointment of being repeatedly being snubbed by Indian selectors.
Every year, I and some of my friends would hope that Maharashtra would win the Ranji Trophy. That dream nearly came true in 1993. An inspired Maharashtra team, under the captaincy of Surendra Bhave made it to the Ranji Trophy finals and played Punjab in the finals. Maharashtra ended day three needing 250 odd runs to claim the Ranji Trophy. I spent a sleepless night and came back hurrying from school, nervous yet expectant. I switched on the transistor only hear the commentator telling me that Maharashtra had folded for 132. I was shattered.
In domestic cricket Surendra Bhave was a colossus. Every season he used to score big and every season we wondered why he was ignored by Indian selectors. A mere look at his first class figures will make one shake his head in disbelief and wonder why Bhave never played for India. Particularly since in the 1990’s (post Gavaskar) India never had a solid opening batsman. For me personally Bhave was a hero. He played for the same club that I did (all be it a senior level). One evening he decided to bat in the nets that we youngsters were practicing and I was ecstatic at being presented with the opportunity to bowl to him.
Surendra Bhave is now the coach of the Maharashtra team that has defied all expectations and reached the final of the Ranji Trophy. Maharashtra Cricket has been in total disarray in the last few years and has never featured in the knock out rounds of the Ranji Trophy for a long time. But this year Bhave has inspired a young team and they have played some outstanding cricket to reach the finals.
Maharashtra’s achievements are tremendous because the team does not have any glamor players or national superstars and the support staff has not been paid adequately. Samad Faalh, Anupam Sanklecha, Rohit Motwani and Srikant Mundhe may not get fat IPL contracts in February and may not play for India. But it is players like them who keep the first class system in India rolling. They are true unsung heroes of Indian cricket.The Ranji Trophy may not excite a majority like the IPL but for the growth of Indian cricket it is the most significant tournament. It is a tournament on whom the foundation of Indian cricket is based.
I will be a keen watcher when the final commences on the 29th of this month and hopefully Maharashtra will cross the last hurdle this time.