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By Partab Ramchand
The story of Rajasthan’s maiden Ranji Trophy triumph is best symbolized by the fable involving Robert Bruce and the spider. Rajasthan has experienced ups and downs in the country’s premier national tournament like few sides have. Once ranked as a powerhouse next only to Bombay (as Mumbai was then known) Rajasthan slipped badly, finishing bottom of the table in the Central Zone league and relegation to the Plate Division being two humiliations they had to put up with. It has been a long, hard road back to the top and this time their efforts were crowned with success as they got the better of two strong challengers in Mumbai and Tamil Nadu on their way to the final where after a keen duel for supremacy they overcame favourites and home side Baroda to inscribe their names on the glittering trophy for the first time and finally scale the summit.
As one who closely followed Rajasthan’s success story in the sixties I was doubly happy when they were crowned Ranji Trophy champions after finishing runners-up eight times. Indeed the first such game that I followed avidly on radio was the 1960-61 semifinal between Madras and Rajasthan. I clearly remember that after taking the first innings lead Madras playing at home had only to get 184 runs to win on the final day of the four-day match. But the spin trio of Subash Gupte, Vinoo Mankad and Salim Durrani worked havoc and Madras were shot out for 116.
It was the first time that Rajasthan were making the Ranji Trophy final but standing in their way was all-conquering Bombay. The oft-crowned title winners and defending champions won by seven wickets and this was a script that was repeated time and again during the decade. Four times in a row from 1960-61 did Rajasthan make the final only for Bombay then in the midst of their 15-year reign as champions to put a spoke in the wheel. The story was repeated in 1965-66, 1966-67 and 1969-70 and it seemed fated that Rajasthan would forever remain the bridesmaid and never the bride. In 1973-74 Rajasthan had another chance to win the title. They made the final and this time there was no Bombay to pull the rug from under their feet. But Karnataka did what had become a habit for Bombay and despite playing at home Rajasthan went down again.
If they failed in their final objective what with Bombay being a formidable side (and Karnataka too for that matter) Rajasthan certainly deserved to be second best for they too had many players who had donned the India cap. Mankad and Gupte were nearing the end of their careers when the Rajasthan success story started but Durrani, Rusi Surti, Vijay Manjrekar and Hanumant Singh were their stalwarts during the sixties. In addition there was GR Sunderam who had played two Tests in the fifties as a medium pacer, Suryaveer Singh an accomplished opening batsman and elder brother of Hanumant, Kailash Gattani an all rounder talented enough to lead the Indian schools team in the sixties and leg spinner CG Joshi who had an excellent record in domestic cricket. The captaincy changed hands between KM Rungta and Raj Singh the former an attacking middle order batsman and the latter a capable medium pace bowler before Hanumant took over. In the late sixties and early seventies the batting was bolstered by Parthasarathy Sharma who went on to play five Tests in the period 1974-1977. Invariably Rajasthan provided the nucleus of the Central Zone side in the Duleep Trophy and Durrani was the star of their maiden triumph in the Duleep Trophy in 1971-72, the side being led by Hanumant.
It has been a long wait for Rajasthan who made their debut in the Ranji Trophy in 1935-36 playing as Rajputana. The state was renamed Rajasthan in the mid fifties and the golden period commenced with the active backing of the Maharana of Mewar. With Mankad and Manjrekar who were registered professionals with the BCCI joining them the team became stronger and it was only a matter of time before they launched a serious bid to win the Ranji Trophy. It is another matter that it has taken so long for them to emerge champions but then this also symbolizes what patience and perseverance can achieve.