Shivaji Park: The cradle of Mumbai cricket

Written by: Sajith Balakrishnan
Published: Monday, May 23, 2005, 18:09 [IST]
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Mumbai: At a time when the whole nation went overboard over the selection of the successor to John Wright, yours truly got an opportunity to walk through the nursery of Mumbai cricket- Shivaji Park Gymkhana (SPG). Yes, the very ground where the legends like Vijay Manjrekar, Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar and countless Mumbaikar's had taken their baptism into the game.

On the western side of the SPG is the renowned statue of Shivaji Maharaj that stands over the maidan as a source of inspiration for scores of young boys who nurture the dreams of making it to the big league one day. For these boys, their first acquaintance with the game starts with tennis ball cricket that they play so passionately in the gullies.

If for Neville Cardus, cricket was a vehicle for literature, for these boys it's a mean to attain greater ends, a method to get ahead in life towards their quest for greater fame and fortitude. In these boys do lie the future of Mumbai cricket that has always basked in the glory of local cricket. They have cricket running through their blood and there is no stopping them.

It is anybody's guess as to what would have happened had not Sachin shifted from Bandra to Shivaji Park at the instance of that great guru Ramakant Achrekar who forced his pupil even to change his school for the sake of the game. What happened later is very much part of the cricketing lore.

In his book War Minus The Shooting, Mike Marquesee writes about Mumbai: "Delightfully cosmopolitan, chaotically multicultural Bombay was being refashioned into straight jacketed Mumbai". However, it is to be noted that Mumbai cricketers have stood the test of the time, be it during the gory days in 1992 when the city was rocked by serial blasts or during the match-fixing scandal.

Of late, political parties have started conducting rallies in Shivaji Park which defeats the purpose for which it stands. It should remain the breeding ground of young cricketers. Cricket is spreading to other parts of Mumbai with talent being spotted from remote pockets too.

During the heydays of Mumbai cricket, the cream layer of Indian batting came from Mumbai. At that stage, when one Mumbai batsman called it a day, he used to pass the bat'on' to the other. However, we saw the last of those when the Gavaskar-Vengsarkar-Patil trio was replaced by the Sachin-Manjrekar-Kambli trio. Mumbai who at one stage had more than five wicketkeepers is now struggling to find a decent replacement to Sameer Dighe. Same with the bowlers, too.

Law of averages seems to have caught up with the Mumbai cricket. It is not that the state of affairs in the local arena, which has the Kanga League, Times Shield that provides security to the players and Padmakar Talim Shield that was incidentally the world's first ever 50-over One-day tournament is bad.

However, Mumbai, who were once a formidable team in the domestic circuit with enough Ranji titles in the bag are now struggling to stay afloat. Their hegemony was initially dealt a body blow by Delhi and later by Karnataka who at one stage replaced Mumbai in sending cricketers to national team in a procession.

Even the mighty Windies and awesome Aussies have had a major slump in their cricketing fortunes in the past. The decline of Mumbai cricket doesn't augur well for the Indian team too. Indian cricket needs the revival of Mumbai cricket which has its roots embedded in the Shivaji Park Gymkhana were one can see at least 21 games being played simultaneously.

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