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Ranji Trophy: The return of Mumbai

India’s domestic giants end their eight-year drought to become Ranji champions for the 42nd time

In the end, it needed the home team’s bowlers to turn ‘khadoos’ — the hard-nosed attitude generally associated with Mumbai’s batters — and break the back of Vidarbha’s resistance to lift the coveted Ranji Trophy for a record-extending 42nd time.

Mumbai’s Dhawal Kulkarni lifts the championship trophy after winning the Ranji Trophy final(PTI)

For 255 balls on Thursday, Vidarbha skipper Akshay Wadkar and young all-rounder Harsh Dubey kept the hosts at bay with a 130-run partnership at the Wankhede Stadium. A wicketless morning session on the final day had left Mumbai’s players feeling restive even though they had the cushion of 537 runs to defend and a first-innings lead. The resistance, however, was spoiling a party that had been on hold for eight long years.

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But as has often been the case during Mumbai’s 2023/24 campaign, it was Tanush Kotian — the player of the tournament with 502 runs and 29 wickets — who rose up to the challenge and trapped Wadkar in front of his stumps. The resolute innings of 102 (119b, 9×4, 1×6) had shown that victory needed to be earned the hard way and that is how it should be in a final.

As it so often happens in cricket, one wicket heralds the arrival of another; here, though, it brought five. In the very next over, Tushar Deshpande bounced out Dubey (65) and in no time Vidarbha went from being 353/5 to 368 all out. Dhawal Kulkarni, Mumbai’s long serving fast bowler who was playing his farewell match, wrapped up proceedings when he cleaned up Umesh Yadav, handing Mumbai a 169-run victory and the trophy.

The dhols that broke the silence at the Wankhede with Wadkar’s departure never fell silent again.

“I wasn’t ready to bowl. Shardul and Ajinkya discussed that I should be given the ball. It was memorable to get the first and last wicket of the match,” Kulkarni said. “Winning the final the tough way is what you want. We held our nerves.”

Kulkarni was a surprise inclusion for the final, having bowled at moderate speeds in previous matches. He came in for the injured Mohit Avasthi and delivered another big-match performance. The pacer has been Mumbai’s Mr. Dependable in Ranji finals — a winner in five out of six finals with three five-fors and a personal batting best of 87. Here in the first innings against Vidarbha, he provided three crucial breakthroughs.

Mumbai are one the most dominant red-ball domestic outfits in world cricket, but the rise of smaller teams in India with improved infrastructure and organised programmes post IPL — Vidarbha is one such side with Ranji wins in 2017-18 and 2018-19 — had stalled their trophy march for six seasons and eight years. Only captain Ajinkya Rahane, Shardul Thakur, Kulkarni and Shreyas Iyer from the winning squad had previously tasted Ranji success. And the joy showed in their euphoric celebrations.

Winning the Ranji Trophy is Indian cricket’s Tour de France — a grueling competition with matches every three days that only rewards consistent excellence. It helped Mumbai that they topped their group and finished with most points across all groups in the league phase, losing only one match against Uttar Pradesh. This meant that they got the vital home advantage and an opportunity to choose the venue of their choice across knockout rounds.

Against Baroda in the quarter-finals, they chose a slow wicket to bat the opposition out of the game. For the semi-finals, they went for a green top and blew Tamil Nadu away. In the final, they would have liked a pitch with more life but their bowlers gave them a big advantage at the end of the first innings. Left-arm spinner Mulani (35 wickets) was their workhorse, Avasthi (35 wickets) and Kotian did their bit even as Thakur and Deshpande delivered impact performances. In young Musheer Khan — 433 runs in three knockout matches — they have found a batter who showed maturity beyond his age.

“This win means a lot. 42nd title is massive,” said Rahane. “We couldn’t qualify for the playoffs by one run, last year. Now we have a win and 10 Mumbai players representing India across formats.”

Mumbai’s win this year holds additional importance as it comes at a time when the BCCI has been pushing India players to play domestic cricket and not preserve themselves for the IPL.

The Mumbai Ranji outfit is a star-studded lineup of many IPL regulars who will soon join their franchises. Many of them became substantially richer with the BCCI raising the winning prize money from ₹3 to 5 crore. Even the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) announced a cash reward of ₹5 crore for Mumbai’s winning squad.

“It has been a great year for the MCA as the association has won 7 titles and we have made it to the knockout stage in all age groups in BCCI tournaments,” said MCA secretary Ajinkya Naik.


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