By Nadim Memon | Opening Doorz Editorial | November 28, 2016
Kanga League Cricket Tournament conjures up images of wet outfields, damp pitches, muddied cricketers, overgrown grass and cricketers playing cards in crowded tents when the rain is in full flow. It also conjures up images of batsmen honing their skills as they negotiate the swing of the ball, uneven bounce and running hard between the wickets, to sometimes run 6 runs, thanks to the overgrown grass in the outfield and the ball being ‘lost’ at times.
Not anymore. Today, the administrators as well as umpires do not know the meaning of the League or why it was started in the first place. For them, cricket should be played on a firm wicket with a dry outfield. While that may be the case of a cricket match, it is not the case with Kanga League.
Started on April 9, 1884, the main aim of this tournament was to aid the then Bombay Cricketers (batsman and bowler) hone their skills. Those days, our cricketers never had a chance to travel abroad. Hence, Bombay, which was once the nursery for cricket and cricketers, trained the players to face the tough English climate by letting them play on treacherous wickets. Correct technique was the order of the day and the batsmen got ample opportunities to groom their game.
Former Test cricketer Nari Contractor who has honed his skills on the wet outfields and damp pitches in the 1950s and 60s says, “This tournament was a competition between batsman and bowler. In the wet conditions, the bowler always had the advantage over the batsman! It was a delight to see batsmen negotiate poor visibility at times and the uneven bounce, with the ball sometimes skidding onto the bat.”
“Those days all cricketers took their cricket seriously. Players like Vijay Merchant, Vinoo Mankad, Vijay Manjrekar, Polly Umrigar, Ramakant Desai, Chandu Patankar, Ajit Wadekar, Madhav Apte, Sunil Gavaskar, Sandeep Patil, Sachin Tendulkar, Sanjay Manjrekar,” all looked forward to this league, he adds. “A good performance in the Kanga League opened the door for a player to get selected for the Ranji Trophy.”
This league was played during the rainy season (July to September). Umpires like M. Mamsa would start the match on wet and damp pitches. Once Mamsa gave the cue, other umpires would follow suit on the other grounds. During some matches, mud and soil would come onto the batsman’s face and clothes. Today, Mumbai cricket and their cricketers have no commitment to this game and the standard of this League has come down drastically. The Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA), which is the organizing body, has limited interest in conducting this tournament. This changed attitude is now also limited to the rule book!
There was this incident which took place last year at the Police Gymkhana. The match did not start because the outfield was wet with a little water at one corner of the boundary. However, the 30-yard area and the playing area was dry. When the umpire was asked as to why the match was not started, his reply was very sad: “We can’t start this match because of the wet condition,” he stated and he went on to quote a rule from the model law book.
It was shocking! Kanga League is a tournament designed to play in wet conditions!
Today, cricketers are getting 150 runs in a match in dry conditions. This year, only two matches were played as the MCA called off the entire League for season. There were so many occasions when the matches could be played on August 14 and 15, but they were called off “due to unplayable conditions.” It’s high time the MCA change their attitude.
Madhav Gothoskar (80)
Former Test umpire and cricket administrator
- Kanga League was like a festival for cricketers. The biggest of names would wait in anticipation for the start of this tournament. The best 45 players from Mumbai were selected for the Ranji team. On any match day, there would be a crowd numbering from three to five thousand to watch matches.
- There were more than 60 recorded hat-tricks! The tournament has its own charm; sometimes a team would be all out for 10 or 20 runs!
- The ground at Matunga used to have huge grass and we umpires had to look for the ball. The batsmen would sometimes runt six runs until we ‘found’ the ball.
- The advantage in this League is that it helps cricketers improve their skills. However, today’s generation of players and umpires are worried about their clothes; they don’t want their clothes or kit to get dirty!
Cricket and cricketers have become commercial puppets. Kanga League teams and Clubs now make payments to players to participate in the tournament. Earlier, until 1999 and 2000, cricketers were committed to play for their club till they retired. Today, players move to clubs that pay them a higher fee.
The late Appa Babrekar, coach of Bharat Club and a very senior personality once told me, “Commercial people and politicians have come to finish our Mumbai cricket culture.”
Appa, you were right. Today, we have all paid cricketers in the A B and C Division. Even in the lower division, the commercial angle is not lost. The golden days of Kanga league are over. They are just a memory, unless of course the authorities wake up and revive this once respected tournament.
(Nadim Memon is a man of the maidans. He is a curator, a sports lover, a cricketer, a footballer and more, importantly a fierce protector of maidans for the younger generation!)