It was the summer of 1999 when Bengaluru’s M Chinnaswamy stadium hosted the final of the Ranji Trophy. Madhya Pradesh had exceeded all expectations to reach the finals of India’s biggest domestic cricket tournament. They ran into Karnataka, who were playing at home. Madhya Pradesh were led by Chandrakant Pandit, who marshalled his troops well to restrict Karnataka to 304.
Thanks to a contribution from the grandson of the great Syed Mushtaq Ali and big scores from Chandraprakash Sahu and Devendra Bundela, MP took a crucial first innings lead of 70 odd runs. Karnataka batted well on a day four wicket to score 300 plus and left MP 247 runs to get. S Abbas Ali again scored 47 in the second innings but the lower middle order collapsed and Chandrakant Pandit’s men had to settle for second best. It was a terrible blow. It was a defeat of spirit.
Last success came with the Holkars
Madhya Pradesh needed a win more than Karnataka for the sake of cricket in our region. Karnataka had already tasted a lot of success in Indian cricket’s premier domestic competition, but MP had no such honour. One had to go back to the 1952/53 season to find Madhya Pradesh’s last success, and that too came with the Holkars.
What is Madhya Pradesh today was also termed as Central Zone and Holkar in yesteryears.
It was the brilliance of the great S Mushtaq Ali and the composure of Bhausaheb Babasaheb Nimbalkar who scored a double century in the final to help Holkar take the first innings lead against Bengal. In the second innings, Bengal scored 320 in 48 overs to declare. For those from this generation who think cricket was slow paced, then it is worth noting that in 1953, Bengal scored at more than six runs per over to give a stiff target to Holkar in the fourth innings. The match became a cliff hanger as Holkar lost nine wickets but somehow managed to draw the game and win the title on the basis of a first innings lead.
However, this win was under the umbrella of the Holkar team and not Madhya Pradesh. The success of Holkar was not just from local talent but also from great cricketers who came from regions other than present day Madhya Pradesh. Madhya Pradesh has a rich cricketing legacy, with Indore being a city that has always had a great liking for the game of cricket. The likes of the great S Mushtaq Ali, CK Nayadu, MM Jagdale and BB Nimbalkar are legends of cricket who represented this Central Indian state.
Madhya Pradesh can also claim a very rich outside influence, as illustrious cricketers like MM Jagdale and BB Nimbalkar came from Baroda and Maharashtra to enrich its cricketing culture. BB Nimbalkar once scored 443 in a single innings—which is unheard of in modern cricket. Father and son MM and Sanjay Jagdale have a rare distinction of serving as national selectors for India. Sanjay has done yeoman’s service for Madhya Pradesh Cricket over the years. In later years, Madhya Pradesh got richer with the likes of Sandeep Patil, who captained MP from 1988 to 1993 and ironically, scored 185 against his native state Bombay.
Ranji win remained elusive
Yet, the Ranji Trophy remained elusive for Madhya Pradesh. In recent history, Madhya Pradesh’s finest batting talent came in the 1990s, in the form of a southpaw Amay Khurasiya. Cricket lovers like me saw in him our own local version of a world class player. After all, he was playing on the same side as Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid. In terms of batting ability, Amay was second to none and like the great S Mushtaq Ali, his strength was his flamboyance.
Thrice, he scored more than 500 runs in a season for Madhya Pradesh and stormed into the Indian team. During the 1999 World Cup, India was playing Pakistan at Old Trafford stadium in Manchester, United Kingdom. I, as a lover of the game, was at the ground with the hope of watching my home state boy get the better of my ultimate bowling hero, Wasim Akram. Although Amay was in the squad for the World Cup in England, he did not get to play a single match. As Amay’s playing days came to an end, I was in despair. I worried where the next world class talent in MP would come from and more importantly, I was worried when we would win our maiden Ranji Trophy title.
It’s not that MP didn’t have talent. My small home town of Ujjain gave India a test cricketer in the form of Naman Ojha. Not bad for a town where people lead a simple, non-competitive life with a culture of visiting temples. People of Madhya Pradesh are not excessively ambitious by nature. This can be judged from the fact that compared to other states, MP is less industrialised. It’s a state where people are still mainly occupied in the primary sector of agriculture. Despite Indore being a major cricketing centre, it took the city 70 years to host its first test match in 2016. But despite its cricketing greats, the Ranji Trophy still remained elusive for Madhya Pradesh.
The final breakthrough
Then something remarkable happened in the current domestic season. Twenty-three years after being branded a losing captain in a Ranji Trophy final, Chandrakant Pandit returned as MP coach for its current season. His side ran into 41-time champions, Mumbai, in the final. Coached by Amol Mazumdar, Mumbai was a formidable team this season.
Mumbai scored a decent 350 plus but MP had other ideas, with three centurions in their first innings reply. A crucial 150 plus lead meant that Mumbai had to go for the runs in the second innings in order to make a match of it and give something to MP to chase. It was not enough. Twenty-three years ago, MP had lost at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium with captain Pandit sobbing with his hands on his face. It had turned out to be the last first-class game for Pandit.
On 26 June 2022, at the very ground where MP had lost the final 23 years ago, then captain and now coach has lifted the trophy for the first time. It’s a great moment for us lovers of Madhya Pradesh cricket. Ironically, the first congratulatory call to me came from the great Mumbai batsman, DB Vengsarkar. I confessed to him that it was unimaginable for us to think that MP could defeat Mumbai during his playing days.
MP must thank its cricketing greats
There are so many people that we cricket lovers of Madhya Pradesh have to thank today. Madhya Pradesh cricket has come so far due to their remarkable talent. To begin with, Cottari Kanakaiya Nayudu, who undoubtedly was a doyen of Indian cricket. Then the genius of S Mushtaq Ali and his two successive generations. The brilliance of Chandu Sarwate and Hiralal Gaekwad. India’s first test wicket keeper JG Navle, who was rated by Jack Hobbs in the same class as George Duckworth. Then the attacking brilliance of left-handed batsman, Khandero Rangnekar. And the longevity of Devendra Bundela’s batting prowess. Madhya Pradesh Cricket owes a lot to Ashok Mankad, who brought in a culture of promoting youth and giving opportunities to young talent.
We must also recall the administrative efforts of father-son duo of MM and Sanjay Jagdale. The bowling unit that restricted Mumbai to 350-odd in the final on a good batting track. Current coach Chandu Pandit and of course our three centurions of the finals—Yash Dubey, Shubham Sharma and Rajat Patidar.
Things have come of age for Madhya Pradesh cricket. Cricketers from the state, like Avesh Khan, Jalaj Saxena, Venkatesh Iyer and Rajat Patidar are now in the limelight. It’s a far cry from the times when Madhya Pradesh had a lone world class player in the form of Amay Khurasiya, who very gallantly competed for a place in the Indian team for an ODI opening slot with Tendulkar. Finally, Madhya Pradesh are Ranji Trophy champions. Sports gives you everything, but in its own sweet time.
Kush Singh @singhkb is founder, The Cricket Curry Tour Company. Views are personal.
(Edited by Zoya Bhatti)