The last day of Ranji Trophy League epitomised the competition this year. It was past 5.40 pm and only the last over left in the game involving Andhra Pradesh and Kerala.
Kerala needed 17 runs to get to make it to the knockouts. The light was clearly below the set standard. The umpires could only have allowed that last over if a spinner was bowling. Andhra were in no mood to oblige. The game ended there and Jharkhand went through. Andhra were level with them on points but had lesser number of outright wins.
Wait! Are we talking of the elite groups, the A and the B? No, this was the lesser group C, and the highlight of this year’s Ranji Trophy was the competition in this group. Kerala were bottom-placed two rounds back but had staged a remarkable comeback. Even J&K came up with stellar performances. Tripura was also competitive, though sporadically.
Group A’s story was about Mumbai’s struggle and Punjab’s roller-coaster ride along with Ranji champions Rajasthan’s slump to the seventh place. Punjab were unstoppable initially, but suffered two losses in the end. Madhya Pradesh looked on course till they were downed in their last two games quite inexplicably.
Against Mumbai, they opted to go or a win and lost by just seven runs. This last ditch win over MP in the penultimate round made Mumbai’s passage easy. Otherwise, MP were the standout team in Group A along with Punjab. Ishwar Pandey (48 wickets), Jiwanjot Singh (785 runs), Jalaj Saxena (769 runs and 10 wickets), Devendra Bundela (606 runs including a century in each innings against Punjab), Rakesh Dhurve (36 wickets), Anand Rajan (33 wickets), Sandeep Sharma (41 wickets), Siddarth Kaul (34 wickets), Parthiv Patel (895 runs) and Manprit Juneja (796 runs) were some of the superlative performers in this group. Ravindra Jadeja, of course, was quite exceptional with 794 runs at 113.42 and 24 wickets at 20.91. He got an instant reward in the form of an India call-up.
Group B’s story was Karnataka’s struggle, Uttar Pradesh’s late surge, Delhi missing out and Tamil Nadu, the runners-up, finishing sixth in the table. Karnataka looked down and out till their last game, which they won owing to M Gautam and Abhimanyu Mithun and qualified. Delhi struggled right through with inconsistent performances and lack of a good spinner. Uttar Pradesh wore a well-rounded look with a lot of depth in ranks, with youngsters such as Mukul Dagar, Ankit Rajpoot, Imtiaz Ahmed and Ali Murtuza shining for them and the old warhorses Mohammad Kaif and Tanmay Shrivastava holding fort. Tamil Nadu were disappointing: their bowling lacked teeth and the batting faltered time and again.
Other than Gautam (938 runs), Harshad Khadiwale (762 runs) and the veteran Mithun Manhas (742 runs) were the only two to score over 700 runs. Mohit Sharma (37 wickets), Imtiaz Ahmed (36), Basant Mohanty (34) and Sumit Narwal (32) were the others who snared more than 30 wickets.
Group C was the most closely contested of all the groups. These less-accomplished teams got eight games each. The qualifiers was not clear till the last over of the group was bowled. Shahbaz Nadeem with 40 wickets was the top wicket-taking spinner in the league. Parvez Rassol of J&K and Rishi Dhawan of HP put in great all-round performances. Assam did well initially but as Dheeraj Jadhav’s form dipped, so did Assam’s. Kerala put in a late surge after S Sreesanth joined them.
Kerala’s VA Jagadeesh (871 runs) and Amol Muzumdar (868 runs) — the latter migrated to Andhra Pradesh — were the leading run-getters. Tarak Sinha’s Midas touch came through once again as Jharkhand went through to the knockouts where Punjab will have to be wary of them.
The new format has proved to be better than the earlier one. It’s more competitive and tests the players endurance to the full.
For me, the hero of this year’s league was Abhishek Nayar, who almost single handedly kept Mumbai in the business. He had a tally of 730 runs at 121.66 and 16 wickets at 23.18, including a best of 6-13 which nearly won Mumbai the match against Bengal. He typified the Mumbai khadoos spirit like none other, so it is a bit of a surprise why he is not being considered for an India call-up when we have such few fighters left in the team. Cheteshwar Pujara’s unbeaten 203 against MP turned that match upside down and catapulted Saurashtra into the knockouts. Another remarkable effort was Gujarat saving the match against Bengal from 18 for five through the efforts of Rujul Bhatt (102*) and Rakesh Dhurve (83) and an eighth-wicket partnership of 149 spanning two-and-a-half sessions.
MP’s victory against Punjab, with a century in each innings by Devendra Bundela, Parvez Rassol’s all-round heroics against Assam (67 and 120 not out, and 7/41 & 2/70), Ankeet Chavan’s 9/23 against Punjab, Rakesh Dhurve’s 8/31 against Rajasthan and Ali Murtuza’s all-round display (106 and 10, 7/60 and 3/62) in Uttar Pradesh’s win against Tamil Nadu deserve special mention.
The writer is a principal secretary in the Rajasthan Government and a former president of Rajasthan Cricket Association.
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