The Ranji Trophy Final – One Of The Greatest Matches In Recent Times
Great news for the ‘original’ cricket fans! The longer version of the game and Indian Domestic Cricket are both alive and well! We had one of the most spectacular matches in recent memory, over the past 4 days – the Ranji Trophy Final. Fortunes changed every hour and Mumbai barely scrapped through, winning by just 6 runs against Karnataka on Day 4 of this 5 day Match, which was played at Mysore.
This match had everything – great bowling, tenacious batting, terrific catching and excellent crowd support. The Mysore Pitch curators did a splendid job by providing a greenish bowler friendly wicket. For too long, domestic cricket has become a bowler’s graveyard, resulting in very high scoring games that get decided based on first innings lead. This game was a clear exception…in fact at times it felt like the match might get over in just 3 days!
Mumbai won the toss and elected to bat first. Some were skeptical of this decision looking at the fresh green wicket, but Mumbai’s strategy was to bat first and put the pressure on the opposition, especially in such a big game. Karnataka bowlers struck immediately and reduced Mumbai to 20/3. The ball was swinging and doing crazy things – definitely not something you are used to seeing in Indian conditions. Like many times before this season the middle and lower-middle order bailed out Mumbai and got them to a fighting first innings total of 233. Vinay Kumar was quite impressive with 4 wickets. Karnataka fared much worse while batting. From 53/3, they literally collapsed like a deck of cards to 130 all-out, giving Mumbai a very important 103 run first innings lead. For Mumbai, Salvi chipped-in with 5 wickets.
Mumbai’s 2nd innings started with a lot of expectations from their batsmen – they were in a strong position in the match and were expected to consolidate their position further. For a few minutes, it did feel that way, when the normally sedate Wasim Jaffer (Mumbai Captain) struck a couple of quick boundaries. But the Karnataka pace attack was also all charged up and reduced Mumbai to 18/3. Mithun who bowled beautifully throughout, was on a hat-trick. 2 more wickets fell later that session, and at 51/5, Karnataka was back in the match. Again Mumbai’s middle order – Nayar and Dhaval Kulkarni (who was a surprise promotion in the batting line-up), did the rescue act. Nayar fell to what can be described as one of the most spectacular all-time catches, by Manish Pandey! (See attached YouTube clip). Kulkarni carried on and by the time Mumbai innings folded at 234, they had an impressive 337 run lead.
Chasing 337 in the last innings is tough under any conditions, and on this bowling paradise, it seemed like Mumbai had pretty much won the trophy! But the swings in fortune were to continue. There were a few more twists in the tale, yet to come. Karnataka again lost Robin Utthapa (their Captain) and the top two cheaply and at 46/3, it felt like the game could be wrapped up soon. But Pandey and Satish had other ideas. They defended solidly and as the partnership progressed, turned aggressive (especially Pandey). A mammoth 200 run partnership evolved and from a losing position – they were well insight of a comfortable win! This change happened in just 3 hours! Pandey scored an attacking run-a-ball 140. He is clearly an exciting prospect for Team India (for many, the memory of his spectacular century he scored for the Royal Challengers Bangalore in IPL is still fresh…).
But Pandey’s wicket again turned the tide and the big game pressure got to Karnataka. The senior, talented (but often unreliable!) Mumbai pacer Ajit Agarkar took charge, with good support from Kulkarni at the other end. In just over an hour after lunch, Karnataka were down to 322/9 with 15 runs still remaining. The last pair was batting reasonably comfortably until Agarkar got Aravind Caught & Bowled…with just 6 runs remaining!
The scenes of jubilation in the Mumbai camp were amazing. Karnataka players were utterly disappointed – especially Manish Pandey, whose heroic 140 still fell short. The passion and intensity of the game were visible on the faces of both teams.
As Wasim Jaffer lifted the Ranji Trophy for the 39th time, it was not Mumbai alone who was celebrating. It was a terrific victory for Domestic Cricket! I cannot remember anytime before when there was so much excitement for a domestic game – and this when an international India-Sri Lanka-Bangladesh ODI series was in progress!