Sunday, January 1, 2012

Ranji Season Review - Mumbai

Seven matches, three wins, four draws - two of them with the first innings lead. Top of the group. Most wins in the league phase of the tournament. Best run quotient of all the teams in the Elite League. The statistics certainly point to a very good tournament so far. But as usual, that is only half the picture.

It has truly been a schizophrenic season for Mumbai. When they were good, they were really good. Two crushing wins which got the team bonus points apart from a nine wicket win over Punjab in a truncated game bear testament to this fact. On the flip side, there were times when the team looked like they were sleep walking through games.


The batting performed admirably in the absence of Ajinkya Rahane, who was warming the benches of the national team for most of the season; and Sahil Kukreja, who retired at the end of last season to pursue an MBA. The runs came pretty consistently through all the matches, and there were no collapses in any of the matches. Different players stepped up at different moments and in the end, it was the batting that really ensured that Mumbai stayed ahead of the pack at the end of the league phase.

Abhishek Nayar and Rohit Sharma carried the team in the initial games with vital centuries against Railways and Rajasthan, while Wasim Jaffer, Hiken Shah and Sushant Marathe came good in the later games. Suryakumar Yadav was a surprise package with his aggressive batting. Scoring at a strike rate of nearly 90, he helped assert Mumbai's dominance in a couple of instances in a Gilchrist-like manner. Another positive was the emergence of Kaustubh Pawar, which went a long way in mitigating the absence of Kukreja.

The absence of a regular opener to partner Pawar is a handicap that can hurt the team in the knock-out matches where a strong opening partnership will be important. This makes Jaffer's demotion down the order even more puzzling. Pawar and Jaffer at the top, with Nayar, SK Yadav, Hiken Shah to follow makes it a more stable order, with the lower order batsmen more than capable of pitching in with runs, as seen through the performances of Iqbal Abdullah, Dhawal Kulkarni and Ramesh Powar.

The absence of Nayar from the clash against Madhya Pradesh due to a thumb fracture is a major blow given that he is the leading scorer so far this season. Still, you would expect Mumbai to have enough batting power to tide them over despite his absence.


The bowling has been more of a mixed bag this season. For one, off field controversies have dogged the team. Agarkar was dropped for the game against Orissa, and he has since made himself unavailable for the rest of the season. Despite all the jokes about him at international level, he has remained a massive performer at domestic level, and still has the skill levels to contribute to the Mumbai team. It is a situation that you feel could have been handled better.

One of the positives has been the emergence of Kshemal Waigankar and Balwinder Singh Sandhu Jnr to partner Dhawal Kulkarni and Avishkar Salvi in the pace attack. While Waingankar is a medium pace bowler at best, the performance of Sandhu against Punjab was very delightful, and has raised hopes of him being the next great Mumbai fast bowler.

Iqbal Abdullah continued on from his performances of last season to provide a vital attacking threat to complement the evergreen Ramesh Powar. He, however, will have to raise his game significantly if he is to start knocking on the doors of test cricket. This inconsistency in the bowling has been one of the main reasons of concern this season. In a situation not seen often, Mumbai conceded over 500 runs in an innings no fewer than three times.

Truly, this has been a blow-hot blow-cold season for them. In the games that Mumbai dominated - against Railways, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab - Mumbai conceeded only 24.1 runs per wicket, grabbing 70 wickets in the process. In the other games - against Rajasthan, Karnataka and Saurashtra - Mumbai conceeded 59.5 runs per wicket, grabbing only 33 wickets. This statistic alone tells the story of the season so far.

Clearly, a better and more consistent performance from the bowlers is required to win the title this season. However, the field for the knock-outs is weaker this season, with only Karnataka realistically expected to challenge for the title, despite the performances of Rajasthan last season. Mumbai face Madhya Pradesh in the quarters, and should go through, despite missing Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Nayar and Sushant Marathe. A seaming wicket is expected, given the performances of their pace attack of Sudhindra and Ishwar Pandey, who have taken 57 wickets between them this season, albeit in the Plate League. Still, with Kulkarni, Salvi, Sandhu and Waingankar to choose from, Mumbai should have little difficulty matching them in this department.

Expect a repeat of the 2009 final between Mumbai and Karnataka this season. Unless Mumbai fall prey to complacency, which was their undoing last year at the quarter final stage.