Maharashtra, was once referred to as the cradle of cricket. And Bombay was the nursery, that nurtured talent. Over the years, like everything else in cricket, things have changed and Mumbai (as it is known today) ceases to be the mainstay of gauging the cricketing capacity in the country. Given the popularity of the game in the city, the domestic leagues and events central to the city itself were very popular. And among them the famous Kanga League" was a tournament that the local players would not want to miss out on. It was the tournament that ushered in the season of cricket in Mumbai. But what really makes this Kanga League special, is the conditions under which it is played. The monsoons add the magic touch to the event, and that is what sets it apart.
The League is named after the cricketer Dr. Hormasji Dorabjee Kanga, who"s first class career spanned from 1899 to 1921,where he was an all rounder and opening batsman. He earned the distinction of being the first Indian to score a double century in first class cricket. In 1911, he was part of the all India team that traveled to England. His main team was the Parsees" and in his career of 43 first class matches he scored 1905 runs and took 37 wickets. He was the president of the Association of cricket in 'then Bombay', and after his death, the Bombay cricket Association, decided to name the Cricket league after the cricketer and great patron of the game. Consequently the Kanga league came into being.
The most appealing facet of this league is the conditions under which it is played. Ninety eight clubs, divided into 7 divisions fight it out in the challenging monsoon conditions of Mumbai, where your skills as a tough cricketer are tested. Each division has 14 teams, so you can imagine the volume of cricketers, no less than a thousand players. One must remember that only maidan clubs were allowed to play, so some of the most popular clubs were Dadar Union and Shivaji Park Gymkhana. This 'wet weather' tournament gained so much precedence among the city cricketers, that no matter how big the player, he made sure he was available to play the league. Given that the matches are played when there was not much cricket being played the world over, there was healthy competition. In the conditions under which these games were played, one can imagine that it was the batsman who would need to be strong to get his shots to reach the boundary. The slow outfield would hamper that endeavour totally. But the reason why this league was thought to be really helpful was the fact that it gave the Indian cricketers a feel of how the wickets would be in England during the cricket season, where the wicket were uncovered and therefore wet. It was the great Vijay Merchant who realized that this league would go a long way in helping the cricketers to adapt to conditions, specially in England. The batsmen for sure could sharpen their skills and excel in their game plans and you can only imagine what a task it would be for the bowlers and fielders.
The matches take place at the Oval, Shivaji Park, Azad Maidan and Cross Maidan. One would like to say that even today, crowds throng these venues, but that sadly is not the case. But there was a time when people would rush to these areas to watch club players rub shoulders with great talents like Ajit Wadekar, Vijay Merchant, Dilip Vengsarkar, Sunil Gavaskar and Sanjay Manjrekar to name a few! It was a heady mix that never failed to intoxicate the cricket loving public of the city. The Kanga league may have lost all it's gloss that it once had, but no one can take away the memories that the years brought with them and indeed some of the characters too.
Very quickly lets acquaint ourselves with the Madhav Apte story, but before that, the littlest master, Sachin Tendulkar made his debut as a 12 year old, thanks much to the gentleman called Madhav Apte. He helped alter the rules, to let this youngster show off his skills and we all know how far that took him. Ok that aside, here's the Apte Story. Ever since its inception in 1948, Madhave Apte took part in the league every year right upto 2002, in fact, just upto about few days before his 70th birthday. He scored over 5,000 runs in the league and for him it was not just another tournament, it was his passion. Quite like the other legend, Sunil Gavaskar, Apte used to arrive in mumbai after an overseas journey and rush to his Dadar Union to play the Kanga League match. Such was the appeal for this league. Another character of the league, was the other Dadar Union member, Vithal Patil. He was referred to as "Marshall", and he ended his Kanga career with no less than 759 wickets.
Over a period of time the league has lost it's charm and nowadays to get together eleven players to play for the most popular clubs has become task. Most youngsters prefer to go overseas and earn more money, and by the time they return from their assignments, the Kanga league is near completion. One would think that the lure for the older cricketers, (ofcourse there have been complete revelations in some like Apte who have played on till their late 60's) would hold some appeal, but that also has not been the case.
For a moment just sit back and give this a thought. A wet cricket league, where club players get to play with legends. Where a 1000 people play in almost a 100 matches. Where a sea of cricket emerges. What fantastic tradition. But as the game of Cricket undergoes a 'dumbing down' phase and the essence of the game is slowly but surely getting lost, the Kanga League may find that it will be lost forever. There are newer forms of the game, there are newer leagues being formed that base themselves on the foundation of money. But, then again, maybe some will see sense and keep the tradition alive, for remember, we should always realise that it"s all about the base, the core. That"s all that really matters in the end.