Mumbai’s two degrees of separation

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In your previous email, I found this bit most interesting:

… given the paucity of land, the low quality of life, and the sheer logistical nightmare of carrying a cricket kit in those crowded local trains in Bombay makes it so counterintuitive to understand the success of Bombay cricket.

On the contrary, these are precisely some of the reasons that many in Mumbai will offer for the phenomenal success of their cricket teams. 

One of the most famous sociological theories in the Mumbai cricketing circles (which some obviously consider a fine bit of sociological humbug) goes thus: a batsman who wakes up in the wee hours of the morning, lugs around a kit that is twice his size and boards a jam-packed local train for a maddening two-hour journey to the maidans is predisposed to develop an over-my-dead-body approach to his batting. Imagine making that godawful trip and then getting out first ball! Now we may or may not agree with this but it is surely worth a consideration. 

The paucity of spaces is an intriguing point. Mumbai, for all its space crunch, was the first city where I saw so much serious cricket being played. Growing up in Bangalore, I was accustomed to seeing plenty of gully cricket and tennis- and rubber-ball cricket in playgrounds but never before had I seen so many people (of such a wide age spectrum) playing so much leather-ball cricket. And there is the whole ecosystem that has grown organically to serve these cricketers – schools cricket, veteran coaches, local journalists, former players, Kanga League, corporate cricket…. Ravi Shastri tells the story of the former Mumbai offspinner Kiran Mokashi hurriedly packing up his kit after a day’s play in the Ranji Trophy. Shastri asked him where he was off to. And Mokashi said he had to go to Azad Maidan (if I remember right) to watch two schoolboys – Tendulkar and Kambli – in action. 

There is something about that story which is so revealing: a first-class cricketer getting excited about two schoolboys who he thinks will make it big, and in turn telling a superstar Indian cricketer about it. It’s staggering to think there was just two degrees of separation between the cream of the cream and the lowest layer! I can’t think of any other city where that happens on a regular basis. Look at Prithvi Shaw. The guy was being interviewed for a documentary in 2011, for heaven’s sake! He was 11 then (at least officially). But I am not surprised. There is so much in the Mumbai cricketing set-up that serves to spot and track prodigies. Many will fall by the wayside but occasionally a freak will arrive.


The other interesting thing I remember about my time in Mumbai was how often people spoke about Mumbai’s losses. Every so often I heard someone talk about that Ajit Wadekar’s run-out in the Ranji semi-final in 1974. That Mumbai team had won 15 freaking Ranji titles on the trot! Fifteen! But I heard more about that Wadekar run-out and the Mumbai loss in 1974 against Karnataka than about the previous 15 triumphs. 

Then there was Mumbai’s famous two-run loss to Haryana in the 1991 Ranji final. We all lived through Sachin’s 136 in that gut-punch of a loss to Pakistan in 1999 but I once heard a Mumbaikar talk in such gushing terms about Sachin’s 96 on the last day of that Ranji final against Haryana. He obviously mentioned the poetic quality to the 96 – mirroring Gavaskar knock in his last Test some years earlier, in another famous loss. He also mentioned one Sachin shot with the same intensity that I imagine someone might have spoken about CK Nayudu’s famous sixes against the MCC at Bombay Gymkhana in 1926 – the sixes that apparently scaled the clock tower. Sachin’s hit was a flat-batted six off Kapil to the sight-screen. It was described with so much depth and feeling that I hope I never see a replay of that shot. Any video evidence will disappoint me. In my head it remains one of Sachin’s grandest sixes. 

I realize I have moved on from the topic on hand. But this is a good segue into a topic that has always interested me. Are there innings or spells from the past that you have seen on video and later wished you hadn’t watched them? I, for one, don’t ever want to see Vishy’s 97 in Chepauk (in 1974-75) or Kapil’s 175 at Tunbridge Wells (in 1983). So majestic are these two innings in my head, I am sure no replays can match up.


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