Kapil Dev has had plenty of accolades to his name. Making his International debut in 1978 against Pakistan, he has gone on to establish himself as one of the greatest all rounders to have played the game, captaining the Indian team to a revolutionary World Cup glory, breaking the World record for most wickets in Test Cricket (434) which was subsequently broken by Courtney Walsh in 2000, and becoming the only Cricketer to have accomplished the grand double of 5000 runs and 400 wickets in Test Cricket, a record which still holds to this date. But the one desire that the Haryana Hurricane had before his retirement from the game, was to win the Ranji Trophy once for his state team, after which he was nicknamed. His wish was fulfilled on this day, 29 years ago on a hot afternoon at the Wankhede Stadium.
With the help of hundreds from wicketkeeper Vijay Yadav, left handed Ajay Banerjee, who was of Bengali descent, and skipper Kapil Dev, who also went on to take a five for in the second innings, Haryana defeated defending champions Bengal at their own den, the Eden Gardens, to progress to the final, despite a valiant knock of 134 from Arun Lal and fifties for lower order batsmen Utpal Chatterjee and Saradindu Mukherjee. Haryana faced domestic giants Mumbai, 5 days later, once again playing an away game. Both teams had stalwarts in their lineups; Chetan Sharma, Ajay Jadeja, Vijay Yadav and skipper Kapil Dev himself turning up for Haryana. Mumbai, or Bombay as it was known as at that time was packed with International stars. Abey Kuruvilla, Salil Ankola, Chandrakant Pandit, Sanjay Manjrekar, Vinod Kambli, Dilip Vengsarkar and an 18 year old boy named Sachin Tendulkar were in their playing XI.
After winning the toss, Kapil Dev decided that his side would bat first. Haryana ended the first day on 290/3, with Deepak Sharma and Ajay Banerjee being the two not out batsmen. While Sharma had 126 runs to his name, he was well supported by Ajay Jadeja (94) with whom he built a partnership of 176 for the second wicket. All three wickets were taken by Abey Kuruvilla, on his first day of domestic Cricket.
Sharma missed his double hundred by a solitary run the following afternoon, as Haryana, with the help of Chetan Sharma, posted a mammoth score of 522. Both the Sharmas joined forces after Haryana were 7 down for 358, and stitched a partnership of 80. Chetan, too agonizingly missed out on a personal milestone, falling short of his hundred by two runs. Abey Kuruvilla bowled well, in tandem with Salil Ankola (3/77) as he ended with figures of 31-6-128-4. At the close of the second day’s play, Mumbai were 48/1, having lost their opener Shishir Hattangadi.
Mumbai batted for the entirety of the third day, finishing with 322/4, thanks to fifties from Lalchand Rajput and Sanjay Patil.
Tendulkar and Vengsarkar, the two well set overnight batsmen, got out the following morning, as off spinner Yogendra Bhandari (5/118) and Kapil Dev (3/54) restricted Mumbai to 410, albeit quickfire cameos from wicketkeeper Chandrakant Pandit (40) and Salil Ankola (31). Mumbai fought back brilliantly in the rest of the day, reducing Haryana to 100/5 Once again, skipper Kapil Dev got on the rescue act, scoring 41, and aiding Ajay Banerjee (60) in the process of taking Haryana to 242. Banerjee also added 83 with the last two batsmen Pradeep Jain (13) and Bhandari (19).
Mumbai were set a target of 355 with 65 overs remaining on the final day. The only way they could have won the game was by chasing down the target, as they conceded a massive first innings lead to their opposition. But, early strikes from Chetan Sharma and Kapil Dev, accounting for Hattangadi, Manjrekar and Rajput, reduced Mumbai to 38/3.
It was time for Sachin Tendulkar to step up and show his class. He proceeded to take the attack to the opposition, smashing Dev, Chetan Sharma and the rest of the Haryana bowlers to all parts, leaving them utterly clueless and helpless. A slower ball from Kapil Dev was smashed over the sightscreen with a straight bat, scattering the crowd. Left arm spinner Pradeep Jain was sent into the swarms as people, upon hearing the assault from Tendulkar, started converging to the Wankhede, several hurrying back, braving the Bombay commute all over again after bitterly, disappointedly vacating the ground at lunch.
Chetan Sharma was not spared either as he ran in from the North Stand end, as he was flat batted by Tendulkar over mid on for another maximum. Jain went for two more sixes as the target seemed to get closer and closer. But, the experience of Kapil Dev, who knew that the youngster would try one shot too many, paid off. The then 18 year old Tendulkar added 134 runs within 22 overs with Vengsarkar, taking 82 minutes to do so. After smashing Bhandari for three boundaries in an over, Tendulkar ended up smashing one straight to the hands of Ajay Jadeja at cover. He departed for a 75 ball 96 studded with 9 fours and 5 sixes, with his side 168/4.
Vinod Kambli, Tendulkar’s school buddy, joined Vengsarkar in the middle. Taking cue from the youngster, Vengsarkar, the Lord of Lord’s, decided to take over as the aggressor. While Kambli was edging and middling it at the other end, Vengsarkar started to play the attacking game. As we all know, Cricket in India during the summer is not quite the most pleasant experience for anyone, especially if it’s a hot and humid afternoon at the Wankhede. Vengsarkar experienced cramps as he sent Kambli back after being unable to run at all, despite hitting it wide of long off. Rajput walked in as his runner as Vengsarkar proceeded to smash Dev for a six over long on.
The score was 249 when Kambli departed, chipping Jadeja’s medium pace back to him. 25 runs later, Pandit nicked one to slip off Jain. Harakiri followed from Mumbai as they lost Kulkarni, Ankola and Sanjay Patil, two of them to run outs. Patil’s dismissal was inexplicable, as on the first ball of Bhandari’s over, he set off without calling and was run out by almost the length of the pitch.
With 50 runs still remaining, last man, debutant Abey Kuruvilla, who played C-Division Cricket before this, walked out to bat. Vengsarkar, cornered to a wall, then decided to take the off spinner apart. A six over the sight screen next ball brought up his hundred. On the third ball, Bhandari, despite pulling the length back, got late cut for four. The fourth and fifth ball disappeared into the skies, one of which crashed into the roof of the Wankhede. Vengsarkar, instead of taking a single off the final delivery, smashed a boundary straight back past the bowler.
Kuruvilla, despite batting at 11 on debut, gave so much faith to Vengsarkar with the bat, that Vengsarkar decided to stop protecting him from the strike, taking singles whenever he got an opportunity. Kuruvilla managed to face 25 balls, also aided by an umpiring error.
Mumbai were 3 runs away from victory. Haryana, 15 balls and one wicket. Vengsarkar, who was fighting a lone battle all this while, aided by his runner Lalchand Rajput, needed one ball to seal the deal. With two balls left in the 66th Over from Chetan Sharma, Kuruvilla glanced the ball to short fine leg. Rajput set off from the non striker’s end in an instant. Kuruvilla, too initially set off, but as he saw Amarjeet Kaypee swoop in to gather the ball, Pandit yelled out a loud call of NO. By the time Kuruvilla heard the call, he was halfway down the wicket, and realizing someone had to occupy the vacant crease at the striker’s end, he tried to return, but it was all too late. The throw came in, the stumps were absolutely demolished and flying about, as Haryana commenced their celebrations of winning their maiden Ranji Trophy title. Ajay Jadeja, Vijay Yadav, Chetan Sharma, Kapil Dev had tears of joy, while on the other side, a valiant Dilip Vengsarkar, brought up by Mumbai’s khadoos Cricket culture, had tears of grief, as he sunk on his knees at square leg. His hundred, a probable call up to the Indian team for their tour to Australia later that year, none of them mattered for him at that point. He could not do it. It was Kapil Dev who did it for his team, aided by a group of champions.
The home dressing room was reduced to stunned silence, as Vengsarkar took a seat in a corner, eyes bloodshot, not a single teammate venturing near him. In complete contrast, the Haryana dressing room went into full fledged celebration mode, as their players broke into impromptu dance routines. Kapil Dev announced that there would be no curfew, they could celebrate as long as they wanted to. After all, it was his lifelong wish that came true!
And this was how the chapter of the greatest Ranji Trophy final ever came to a close.