All is not well in Mumbai cricket. In fact, things are far from ideal. The domestic giants of Indian cricket are facing a crisis both on and off the field.
Mumbai’s Ranji Trophy team has fallen way short of expectations over the past two years. Although the 41-time champions made the final in 2016-17, and won the title the year before that, they only reached the quarter-final in 2017-18 and got knocked out in the league stage in the recently concluded season. Such results are considered nothing less than disastrous in Mumbai’s cricketing circles. To make matters worse, the junior teams haven’t had promising results either.
While the Mumbai Cricket Association believes the bulk of the blame for this mess lies with the Ajit Agarkar-led senior selection committee, who it wants to sack for failing to dispense its duties, Wasim Jaffer, who has won the Ranji Trophy eight times playing for Mumbai, reckons the problem lies elsewhere.
In part two of his interview with Scroll.in, Jaffer, who recently completed a back-to-back Ranji Trophy-Irani Cup triumph with Vidarbha, details the changes Mumbai cricket needs to make to get back to winning ways.
Excerpts from the interview:-
Mumbai won the Vijay Hazare Trophy this season, but have struggled in the Ranji Trophy for the past two years. Do you see something drastically wrong within Mumbai cricket?
Any season where Mumbai doesn’t do well in the Ranji Trophy is considered a failure. Obviously, this season they didn’t even qualify, so it will be considered a major blot. My concern is that not even any of the age-group (junior) teams are doing well. That’s a big concern. Also, them letting go of Pandit. He couldn’t have been removed from his duty for lack of performance – he played two finals and won a title. So why was he taken out? That needs to be looked at. The vision of the administration counts a lot. I’ve seen over the years, the cricket in a state is healthy as long as the administration is doing its job well. I feel Mumbai needs to look into this. They also need a strong coach, especially at the Ranji level. And that coach needs to be given a two-year term at the least. He should be given freedom. You can’t tie his hands with dos and don’ts.
Mumbai cricket also needs to look at its club cricket structure. In my experience, I have seen that there are three-four strong teams in a club tournament, with the rest getting knocked out in the early rounds. So the players playing for the weaker teams don’t get much of an opportunity. If I’m a youngster playing in the Purshottam Shield and get knocked out in the first round, the next club tournament for me will only happen after the Ranji Trophy. So where do I get my opportunity? There should be 10-11 league games in a club tournament, and they should be played at the same time as the Ranji Trophy. This way, the selectors can have a good look at the people who are performing, and there will be ample opportunities for all the players. If every cricketer gets 10-11 matches, quality cricketers are bound to come up.
Any other recommendations you would make?
My recommendation is that the A-division cricket should be played over two days, with 100 over being bowled each day. And it needs to happen every Saturday-Sunday. Also, do we need the Kanga League? Nowadays, we don’t play on wet wickets. The pitches are nice and covered. I understand that earlier the match wickets weren’t covered so it made sense to have practice tournaments on wet wickets. But that isn’t the case now. So why do we need the Kanga League? Technically, that tournament starts in July but we don’t get any matches till September. So why play it? We should we start a tournament, be it Purshottam or Talim, in September. And the Times Shield must start before the Ranji Trophy.
If those three league games of the Times Shield are played before the Ranji Trophy, the selectors will have a great idea of which players are in form. This year, we are going to play those three league games of the Times Shield at the end of the season. What sense does that make? It’ll just be a formality and the selectors will get nothing out of it. Somewhere down the road, I hope the people in the administration sit down and take these decisions in favour of Mumbai cricket.
What’s your assessment of the caliber of players coming through in Mumbai? One got the feeling that the the team was struggling to even compete for most of the season...
Mumbai were fortunate that they had their top players like Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Prithvi Shaw, Shreyas Iyer, Dhaval Kulkarni and Shardul Thakur available for the Vijay Hazare Trophy. Which, of course, is why they dominated and won. But unfortunately, most of these players, for various reasons, were unavailable during the Ranji Trophy. And that’s where the problem lies. The bench strength isn’t solid. There aren’t enough quality players coming through the Under-19s and Under-23s. That’s the concern for Mumbai cricket. And that’s my point, quality players will come up if the club cricket is strong.
In my earlier days, the level of Mumbai’s club cricket was so high that we didn’t experience much of a difference when we went on to play the Ranji Trophy. The gap in terms of quality wasn’t much. Nowadays, I feel that the quality in club cricket has gone down, and the people in the administration need to step-up.
(In the first part of this interview, Jaffer talks about the quality of the Ranji Trophy, the impact of professional players in domestic cricket and more. Read it here)