Haryana v/s Mumbai
It was the first Ranji match of the 2013-14 Season. Defending Champions Mumbai were playing a relatively weaker Haryana side in a small unknown town called Lahli. Ajit Agarkar, the regular Mumbai captain, had just announced his retirement from all forms of cricket. Rohit Sharma, the incoming captain, was busy opening the innings for India in the ODI series. Zaheer Khan was Captain, on the verge of making a comeback into the Indian Test team himself. Ajay Jadeja, everybody’s favorite ex-India all-rounder, was making his comeback into domestic cricket after 6 years to captain the Haryana side and play mentor. Joginder Sharma, inches away from death in 2011 after a horrific accident, was trying to get back to his prolific domestic best.
And just like that, this small game- not even a final or semi final- became the most watched Ranji match in recorded history. The tiny ground was packed to capacity every 1 of the 4 days.
Because Sachin Tendulkar was to play his final domestic match for Mumbai. His 38th Ranji trophy match, at the age of 40, 24 years after he first played for the team. He averaged 88. Mumbai had only ever lost 1 match when Tendulkar played, way back in 1992 against Haryana.
But all these stats and facts didn’t really matter.
India’s favorite sporting son was on the clock. Including this game, he was only going to play 3 more matches in whites. Everyone wanted a piece of him, in any way possible. Especially the opposition bowlers.
The result of the match, the significance for other players, the pitch and seaming conditions- it all faded away for 3 and some days of competitive cricket.
After a first innings that had both teams score 134 and 136, it had come down to a one-innings shootout with plenty of time left. The bowlers were having a whale of a time- and Mohit Sharma, well known as a CSK bowler, would tell his grandkids that he got Tendulkar bowled in his final domestic match for 5. Not many expected him to bat again in a 4-day match on an Indian pitch.
But he did. If there was such a thing as a perfect farewell, this was to be it. Haryana set Mumbai a stiff target of 240 on a crumbling pitch. Zaheer Khan managed 4, despite bowling waywardly. Joginder Sharma had already scripted his own fairytale comeback in the first innings with 5 wickets. Jadeja had inspired his troops and they were taking it to the defending Champions. Jaffer, their own run giant, had failed twice in a row. Rahane was the man that continued his domestic scoring, with 51 valuable runs in the first innings.
Tendulkar walked in at 87-2 in the fourth innings after Rahane was castled by the ball of the match by off-spinner Yadav. He scratched around for a bit, until Pawar was caught behind after a snorter from Mohit.
Tendulkar watched as wickets fell around him. It was the 90s all over again. It was almost as if his Mumbai teammates had decided to collapse around him only to give him a fitting tribute. Only to make him feel young again. To make him feel invincible again.
And it worked.
He finished on 79 not out. Dhawal Kulkarni, the man at the other end, was born on the day Tendulkar made his Ranji debut back in 1988. Mumbai had won by 4 wickets.
The important thing is that he was unbeaten, far from his best, but he remained not out. He played cautiously, peppering his innings with a few good shots. By now, we had come to expect a scratchy innings from him in any form of the game. But he did it with grit, he was enjoying himself, and it was as if he was set free from his demons by conquering them again. The pitch made up for the bowlers’ lack of experience. The slow outfield made him work for his runs.
Sachin Tendulkar ended his Ranji career with a MoM award after dragging Mumbai across the line in a low-scoring thriller against Haryana. It will easily be one of his most satisfying innings of the last 2 years- an effort that illustrated that he is ready to retire.