New Delhi: Members of the Haryana team that won their maiden Ranji Trophy title in 1991 were stunned by 18-year-old Sachin Tendulkar’s batting exploits as he threatened to take the final away from Kapil Dev’s team with an explosive knock.
Having scored 47 in the first innings, Tendulkar hammered a 75-ball 96 in the second innings as Mumbai chased 355 runs in 67 overs in a topsy-turvy final, which Haryana won by a mere two runs to make history. Twenty-two years later, Tendulkar, now 40, is the lone surviving member of either team that played the five-day final at the Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai, in May 1991.
The Haryana Cricket Association has invited members of the winning team, along with then Bombay captain Dilip Vengsarkar, to honour them at a function that will take place just before the Haryana-Mumbai Ranji game, which begins in Lahli, near Rohtak, on Sunday. It will be the first time that the Haryana team will be getting together since winning their first — and the only — Ranji Trophy title.
Haryana players vividly remember Tendulkar’s batting. “Sachin spoiled our momentum in the second innings with his smashing knock. When he started hitting, none of us [the bowlers] knew where to pitch the ball. With his breezy batting he opened up the match, which was in our control until then,” fast bowler Chetan Sharma told Mail Today.
Batting at No. 5, Tendulkar struck nine boundaries and five sixes as he shared with Vengsarkar (139 not out) a 134-run partnership for the fourth wicket in the second innings.
Sharma said that Sunil Gavaskar had lavished praise on Tendulkar at a dinner. “Sunny bhai told me that if we can get that ‘chotu’ out, the match would be ours,” he disclosed.
Tendulkar finally got out, caught off a full toss from off- spinner Yogendra Bhandari, who had taken five wickets in the first innings. When he left, Bombay, chasing 355 in 67 overs, still needed 187 to win, but Haryana regained the initiative and won with 2.2 overs to spare, triggering highly emotional on-field scenes.
Rajesh Puri, Haryana’s middle-order batsman and a brilliant fielder, said he saw Tendulkar batting for the first time, like most of his teammates, in that match. “We had heard a lot about him. Wherever I fielded, my eyes were fixed on his elbow, which he kept straight almost all the time while playing shots,” he said.
Haryana opener Dhanraj Singh was awestruck with Tendulkar’s focus. “He almost turned the match upside down with his rapid-fire 96. I will never forget one pulled six he hit off a slightly short ball from left-arm spinner Pradeep Jain,” Dhanraj told Mail Today.
“He went on to the back foot and played it to the mid-wicket where I was fielding. I thought I would catch it, but the ball sailed over me and into the Sunil Gavaskar Stand.” Dhanraj said during a tea party he spoke to Tendulkar for the first time, hesitatingly. “I went up to Sachin and asked him if we can have a photograph together, and he happily posed with me,” he recalled.
“Most of my Haryana team-mates were a bit hesitant in talking to him.”
Haryana team coach-cum-manager Sarkar Talwar, a former state captain and reputed off-spinner, was also mesmerised by Tendulkar. “He played an unbelievable innings of 96. He hit Kapil for a parallel six and the ball landed inside the dressing room. Mumbai’s momentum was built around his innings. We were stunned by his batting,” Talwar told Mail Today.
“He went on to prove that he was not merely a great batsman, but one of the greatest.”