When a team wins the Ranji Trophy championship a record 39 times out of the 43 occasions they have played in the final, it must be a cakewalk for them.
And that is what Mumbai coach Sulakshan Kulkarni told MAIL TODAY when asked if it was a habit for the Mumbai players to win the coveted domestic trophy.
Preparing for their 44th appearance, this time against first- time finalists Saurashtra, Kulkarni said winning the Ranji Trophy is part of Mumbai’s cricketing culture.
“It runs in our blood. Anything short of a title win isn’t satisfactory, not only for the team, but also for the fans. Yes, it would definitely put pressure on the players, but then when you grow up seeing your predecessors in the team doing just that, it becomes a sort of routine for you. You know what is expected and that is how you are mentally tuned,” he said.
But Kulkarni quickly adds that this attitude shouldn’t be misconstrued as arrogance.
“This isn’t arrogance. We train just as hard every time and there is no sense of complacency. Even this time, we are aware that Saurashtra can be a tough cookie.
Despite Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravindra Jadeja busy doing national duty they have done extremely well to beat Punjab – one of the best teams this year. But we train and play to win this championship,” the former Mumbai wicket- keeper said.
This time though, things weren’t a bed of roses for the champion team. They were on the verge of failing to qualify for the knockout stages before Zaheer Khan single- handedly won them the match against Madhya Pradesh. Kulkarni says he has hardly seen a more devastating spell.
“Interestingly, Zaheer spoke to the team during the tea- break and said that we needed to come up with something special and he himself rose to the occasion. I have hardly seen such a breathtaking spell of fast bowling. MP looked to be at the top of their game before Zaheer showed he had other ideas,” he said.
Talking about Zaheer’s absence from the final, all Kulkarni said was: “ The other bowlers have done extremely well, but then those are big boots to fill.” Being the coach of a team that is expected to win the title isn’t easy, but Kulkarni feels that is where the senior players have been extremely helpful.
“The pressure is always there. But the likes of Wasim Jaffer, Ajit Agarkar and Sachin Tendulkar have been really helpful. They have shared my burden and I can’t thank them enough. They keep speaking to the youngsters and their work ethics only peps up the young players,” the 46- year- old said.
While the presence of a star like Tendulkar in the team could put undue pressure on the youngsters, Kulkarni feels otherwise.
“Having played and followed the game for so long, I have never seen a player being cheered for fielding a ball that is hit at him. But in Tendulkar’s case, that is what happens.
This doesn’t affect the youngsters in the Mumbai outfit.
“On the contrary, they are on their toes as they know that when Tendulkar is around one good performance would get them noticed,” he said.