In one of the closest finishes ever in a Ranji Trophy final, it was Haryana who held their nerve and went on to win their maiden title, overcoming a strong Bombay team comprising of Dilip Vengsarkar, Sachin Tendulkar, Sanjay Manjrekar and Vinod Kambli among others. Bombay had lost a final just thrice before that and had won as many as 30 titles already. They were easily the undisputed kings of the Indian First-Class competition and have gone on to produce some of the finest players in the world. However, on May 7, 1991, they were in for a surprise as a Kapil Dev-led Haryana were hungry to make history and deny Bombay their first title in six years. It left Vengsarkar, one of India’s premier batsmen in the 80s sobbing after his heroic innings failed to take his team over the line by the narrowest of margins.
Kapil and Chetan Sharma were a part of the final defeat at the hands of Delhi in the 1985-86 season. They were outdone by the brilliance of Manoj Prabhakar (113), Kirti Azad (107) and Mohinder Amarnath (194), before they were bowled out for just 288 in their first innings, thanks to a disciplined bowling effort. Could the 1991 final too go a similar way?
Haryana lost Dhanraj Singh early after electing to bat, but Ajay Jadeja (94) and Amarjit Kaypee (45) ensured that they put Haryana in a good position at the end of the first day with Deepak Sharma unbeaten on 126. Bombay got back into the game a bit on the next day, but could not stop Haryana from scoring a massive 522. Deepak Sharma fell one short of his double century, while Chetan Sharma came in at No. 9 and frustrated the Bombay bowlers with a 203-ball 98.
In reply, Bombay ended day three at 322 for 4, exactly 200 runs behind Haryana’s total, with Vengsarkar and Tendulkar well set. However, Tendulkar failed to add to his overnight score and Vengsarkar too was dismissed after adding just six more runs. Bombay, who at one point looked good to take the first innings lead, were bowled out for 410, despite useful knocks from Chandrakant Pandit (40*) and Salil Ankola (31).
All Haryana had to do was bat as long as they can and they would create history. However, Bombay had not given up yet as their bowlers ripped through the Haryana batting to have them languishing at 159 for 8 at the end of day four. From 154 for 8, the last two wickets managed to add 88 runs more largely thanks to Ajay Banerjee’s 60. Bombay were eventually set 355 from 67 overs.
The Tendulkar show
The only way Bombay could win their 31st title was if they chased the target down, considering Haryana already had the first-innings lead. Bombay began their chase just before lunch on the final day. They got off to the worst possible start as they lost their top three with just 34 runs on the board. The chances of Bombay pulling this off diminished further. But in walked 18-year-old Tendulkar to join the Colonel. Tendulkar started counter-attacking right from the beginning. He took on left-arm spinner Pradeep Jain and also tore into Kapil and Chetan Sharma, who was smashed into the stands twice in a row, despite the fact that most fielders were guiding the boundary.
Even off-break bowler Yogendra Bhandari, who picked up five wickets in the first innings faced Tendulkar’s wrath. He smashed the spinner for three fours in an over and then miscued a full-toss straight to cover to bring an end to a spectacular innings of 96 off 75. He hit as many as five sixes in the innings. More importantly, the quick 134-run stand for the third wicket brought Bombay back in the hunt.
Vengsarkar takes over
For most part in the 80s, Vengsarkar was considered to be on par with Sunil Gavaskar with his performances for India. In fact, when the rankings were first introduced in 1987, Vengsarkar was the top-ranked Test player. After a turbulent time in 1989, when he was sacked as the captain of India, Vengsarkar came back to the domestic circuit and scored runs in abundance. All his centuries paled in comparison to the one he scored in this match. Despite the onslaught by Tendulkar, Vengsarkar still had a lot of work to do. He was joined by a young Kambli, who had a couple of lucky escapes but kept the scoreboard ticking. Everything seemed to be going Bombay’s way. Soon, confusion in the middle, led Vengsarkar to sprint back to his crease and he was in considerable pain, which is when he asked for a runner- Lalchand Rajput.
Despite being in discomfort, Vengsarkar launched into Kapil. The crowd which had disappeared from the Wankhede started to make their way back to witness perhaps one of the greatest run-chases in Ranji history.
Once Kambli was dismissed, Bombay started losing wickets quickly and it looked like it would be just a matter of time before they folded. At 305 for 9, in walked debutant Abey Kuruvilla. Bombay needed 50 more to win.
Vengsarkar then took on Bhandari, whom he struck for 6,4,6,6,4 in an over to not just reach a well-deserved hundred, but also took Bombay closer to a win. Kuruvilla too put a price on his wicket, not playing any rash strokes. Kapil thought he had him leg-before, only for the umpire to turn it down, which left the skipper fuming.
Vengsarkar continued to play fearless cricket as he continued to knock the runs off with ease. “When you are nine down, sometimes you have to depend on luck to an extent,” skipper Manjrekar said after the match. “And in any case the innings Dilip played is the dream of any batsman. We can hardly criticise it.”
The painful moment
With just three runs required from the final two overs, the match seemed to be slipping away from Haryana. Chetan Sharma was given the responsibility to knock the final pair over. The fourth ball of the over saw Kuruvilla get some bat on ball. While Rajput was quick off his tracks, Kuruvilla looked at the ball way too long, and despite putting in the long strides, could not make it back home and Bombay lost by a mere two runs.
Vengsarkar, standing at square leg was crushed and could not hold back his tears. His run-a-ball unbeaten 139 counted for nothing as Haryana snatched victory right in the end. Bombay had no business being alive in the match for as long as they did, but in the end, produced one of the greatest matches the Ranji Trophy had ever seen. Haryana finally tasted success and went on to get their hands around the Ranji Trophy for the very first time which remains their only title till date.
Bombay/Mumbai on the other hand, have gone onto win the coveted trophy on 11 more occasions, while Haryana have failed to make it to the final even once ever since.
After his heroic innings, Vengsarkar made it back into the Indian team for the tour of Australia, which turned out to be the final outing for his country.