Time of his life | Sports News,The Indian Express


Written by Tushar Bhaduri, Devendra Pandey
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Updated: January 18, 2020 5:12:31 am


Time of his life Ravi Shastri’s second-innings charge turned out to be the turning point of the match. He returned to pick eight second-innings wickets to steal a famous victory.
(Express Archives)

Long before the manufactured rivalry between Mumbai (Indians) and Delhi (Daredevils, now Capitals) often promoted by the Indian Premier League and broadcasters—regardless of them being at two opposite ends of the success spectrum— there was the genuine one between the two giants of domestic cricket, featuring most of the top players in the country.

Starting in the second half of the 1970s and throughout the 80s, the Bombay versus Delhi contest used to be the battle royale of the Ranji Trophy. Five times during this period (six overall), the two giants met in the final, and no inch was conceded in matches fought tooth and nail.

“Those matches had the intensity of Test matches, such was the seriousness with which they were played,” former Delhi skipper Kirti Azad says. “Performing against Bombay (now Mumbai) was considered a stepping stone to making it to the Indian team.”

The Indian Express’s sports page on April 7, 1985 celebrated Ravi Shastri’s singular effort in shaping Mumbai’s victory over archrivals Delhi.

Delhi has laid its hands on the Ranji Trophy on seven occasions – with only Mumbai (41) and Karnataka (8) being more successful than them. But on only one of those occasions, 1979-80, did they get the better of Bombay in the title clash. In fact, they have been thwarted by their arch rivals in the final no less than five times.

The Delhi players who made a habit of making the Ranji final almost every year during that era will consider the 1984-85 final as the one that got away when they failed to put it across the defending champions.

Golden age in Indian cricket

The 1984-85 final was part of probably the most successful two months in the history of Indian cricket. The team had won the World Championship of Cricket just three weeks ago, and just days before the Ranji showdown at the Wankhede Stadium, clinched the Rothmans Cup in Sharjah which included the famous win over Pakistan when they successfully defended 125 runs.

And Bombay’s hero in the final was the Champion of Champions in Australia – enjoying the most productive phase of his career. Twelve wickets in the match (including eight in the fourth innings) and the top score of 76 in the Bombay second innings leave no doubt over who the architect of the 90-run triumph was.

“It was the best season of my life as a player across all formats. The season started in 84-85. We were in Pakistan, I got good runs there. We came back and I scored a hundred in the Test in Kolkata and later got one at Cuttack. I came back to Bombay and scored a double hundred, in which I hit six sixes in an over. After that, I went to Australia for the World championship and won the title with the car. Then went to Sharjah and won the tournament there,” Ravi Shastri recalls.

The four-nation competition in the Gulf finished on March 29, with the Ranji final starting on April 1, but Shastri and several other India stars made it a point to feature in the domestic showpiece.

“I had to rush back to England to play that league. I played that match and I missed a few games in England because of it,” the current India head coach says.

Hence, Shastri, and the two captains Sunil Gavaskar and Madan Lal fronted up for their respective teams on the big day. Apart from them, the line-ups included the likes of Sandeep Patil, Lalchand Rajput, Shishir Hattangadi and Chandrakant Pandit on one side against, among others, Chetan Chauhan, Surinder Khanna, Kirti Azad, Manoj Prabhakar, Ajay Sharma and Maninder Singh on the other.

The fact that it was Bombay vs Delhi may have had a lot to do with it.

“Bombay-Delhi were king games. There was needle, there was fire, there was constant chat. There was not an inch given… I’ve not forgotten that match till date, because it was the Ranji final. Stakes were very high and it was the two best teams competing. You could feel that intensity, a game between two serious sides,” Shastri feels.

Delhi hold early edge

“When we got 333, we all knew that this total wasn’t enough to win the game,” Shastri remembers. “Some of their batsmen were domestic cricket legends – Chetan Chauhan, Ajay Sharma, Kirti Azad, Surinder Khanna, they were all serious players. Lag gaya toh they used to play long. Delhi-Mumbai matches used to be close always.”

When the visitors took the first-innings lead, some thought the deal was done, and Delhi manager Sunil Dev announced that each member of the team would receive Rs 10,000 for ‘winning’ the Ranji Trophy. That seemed to have riled up Shastri, who took it upon himself to turn the tide.

“In the evening after they had got the first innings lead, DDCA announced Rs 10,000 to each Ranji Trophy player. The same evening, I was seated in the dressing room and was having beer with Kiran Mokashi. Kirti (Azad) passed by and said ‘peelo, peelo bhai, 10,000 mil hi gaya hai, apna toh kaam ho gaya’. After he went, I told Dominic (Mokashi), yeh match banaana hai,” Shastri says.

Mokashi adds a few other juicy tidbits about the incident: “They (Delhi) were confident and felt they have won this game. I remember (Bishan Singh) Bedi had come down and few people left for Delhi after they took the first innings…. Kirti used to tell Ravi, trophy ko achhe se polish karke rakhna (keep the trophy polished for us).”

Dev is reluctant to acknowledge that his announcement provided extra motivation to Bombay. “These days, Rs 10,000 may not be a big deal, but in those times when a player got just Rs 600 as match fee, it was a sizeable amount. They (Bombay) would have had enough motivation to win the Ranji Trophy, they didn’t need to deny a fellow player Rs 10,000,” the DDCA official says.

Godfather of Delhi cricket

That Bedi came to watch his proteges take on the pre-eminent side in the country was only to be expected. It is the legendary left-arm spinner and former India captain who is credited with making Delhi a force to be reckoned with that could look Mumbai in the eye.

“He was the captain under whom Delhi won the Ranji Trophy for the first time in 1978-79,” Azad says.

“He was the one who inculcated a fighting spirit in the Delhi team and brought in good players like Surinder (Khanna) and Madan Lal,” Dev says. “Bedi took it personally and wanted to make Delhi a strong team. Previously, we had a weak team, unlike Bombay who always had 8-10 top players.”

According to Lal, “Bedi taught Delhi how to win.”

The turnaround

Delhi managed 398 in their first innings, with Sharma top-scoring with 131, batting at No. 8, and Lal contributing 78, with the latter believing – till date – that they should have got a much bigger lead and probably batted Bombay out of the contest.

“I was wrongly adjudged caught-behind off Shastri though I had not nicked the ball. There was a loud appeal from everyone around the bat and the umpire succumbed to the pressure,” Lal remembers.

“I asked the Bombay players after the day’s play and they admitted that it was a plan hatched during the lunch interval.”

The lead was 65 when it could have been much bigger and, together with the fact that Delhi had to bat last on a pitch expected to aid spin towards the latter stages, gave Bombay a foot in the door.

Mokashi agrees: “If they had batted one more session, they were through.”

From there on, Shastri took over. Rajput and the middle order came to the party and the defending champions scored at almost four runs an over to declare at 364/7, giving Delhi a victory target of exactly 300 in little over a day’s play.

“Delhi were one down at stumps and Chetan was batting,” Shastri recalls. “I told Dominic we will fight and only you and me have to bowl the next day. He was an off-spinner and I was a left-arm spinner. Ek-do nikaalenge jaldi, I feel match ban jayega. Next day, we got them all out. Kiran bowled from one end, he got one wicket, I got eight.”

He hints that apart from those two, there were not too many believers in the Bombay camp. “Sunny was not feeling well and he didn’t come for the last day. He also felt yeh match gayaa. Sandy (Sandeep Patil) led the team.

“When I started to take wickets in the second innings, I was on a roll. My form and confidence were high. I was having a magnificent season with bat and ball. The way I was releasing the ball, I knew that if we put them under pressure, I can run through them. We applied pressure and tightened the screw. I don’t think I have ever bowled better in my life. Khanna I got stumped, Sharma I bowled through an arm ball. Chetan was caught behind.”

Mokashi adds: “We were on top of the game then as it was a fifth-day wicket and the ball was turning. I was bowling round the wicket and Gursharan Singh left a ball pitched on leg stump in anticipation that it will go down the legside but it turned and took his leg stump. It was the turning point for us because he was in form. We got them all out before tea on the last day.

“Ravi told me ‘Tu ek end se pakad ke rakhna (keep it tight) because if they scored against me then Ravi’s bowling would have been ineffective. I bowled a flat outside-off-stump line.”

Shastri’s other skills

According to the off-spinner, Shastri employed some other ‘skills’ too to get under the skin of opposition batsmen.

“Ravi and Delhi batsmen ka pura time chaloo tha (they were having a go at each other all the time). Ravi used to tell them, shot khel ke bata na? Kya tuk-tuk kar raha hai (Play some shots. Why are you blocking). Through that banter, we got Surinder and Kirti in quick succession. Surinder went to hit over midwicket but it went straight up in the air.

“We created pressure, Ravi created pressure orally. He was fired up and when we got three wickets, we felt we have a chance. Ravi was a very aggressive bowler. He will throw a challenge to the batsmen, needle them. Ravi used to provoke and I felt Delhi wanted to dominate him.”

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