Yet another edition of India’s biggest domestic cricketing extravaganza is on the verge of culmination. On Monday, Saurashtra beat Karnataka by 5 wickets to seal their place in the finals against the reigning champions Vidarbha.
Both the sides have played some of the best cricket in the tournament to reach this stage and it is needless to say that both deserve to be in the finals.
The 2018-19 edition of Ranji Trophy has been one of the most competitive ones yet, with minnows being the big winners. While the giants like Mumbai, Delhi, and Baroda took the fall, it was teams like Kerala, and Uttarakhand that took the center stage.
As the oldest cricket tournament in the country comes to another thrilling, we take a look at both the sides chances of winning the highly revered trophy:
Headquartered in the Gujarati city of Rajkot, Saurashtra has not seen much success historically. The team started playing way back in the 1950-51 season. Although its preceding teams, Nawanagar and Western India (WISCA) scalped Ranji Trophies in 1936-37 and 1943-44 respectively, Saurashtra’s trophy cabin has been vacant for the better part of the 20th Century.
It was only in the 2012-13 and then in the 2015-16 edition that the team made headways into the tournament, reaching as far as the finals. However, on both the occasions, Saurashtra was unluckily defeated at the hands of Mumbai.
The first one was the uglier of the two, with the Rajkot-based team wrapping up for a paltry 82 runs in the third innings to lose by an innings and 125 runs. History was repeated in 2016 when Mumbai again defeated Saurashtra by an innings and 21 runs.
Road to Finals
In 2018-19, Saurashtra has been unbeaten in the tournament, winning three and drawing five of their matches. They started out with a draw against Chhattisgarh before edging out Railways by 3 wickets in the following matches. Saurashtra then drew the next two matches against neighbouring teams of Baroda and Gujarat before winning big against Maharashtra (by 87 runs) and Karnataka (by 5 wickets).
Their last group match against Vidarbha ended in a draw as well, with a great batting display on both sides.
The knockout stage is where Saurashtra faced relative competition. Playing against Uttar Pradesh in their home, Saurashtra trailed by 385 runs after the first innings. That, combined with a low score of 208 in the second innings meant that the visitors were in big trouble.
Nonetheless, they showed great resilience in first restricting UP for just 194 runs before successfully down the huge total of 371 runs. It was the biggest run-chase ever registered in the history of Ranji Trophy. Youngster Harvik Desai was the star of the moment for Saurashtra with the 19-year-old’s opening knock 84 and 116 setting the foundation for his team.
The semifinals against Karnataka was a similar affair, with Saurashtra being set a stiff target of 278 runs. The situation seemed grim for them when the score first stood at 3-2 and then 23-3. However, two batsman – Cheteshwar Pujara and Sheldon Jackson– hit timely centuries to ensure a smooth 5-wicket win over the 8-time Champions.
Another mammoth and superlative win of Team Saurashtra in #RanjiTrophy #semifinal . Superb knocks by @cheteshwar1 and @ShelJackson27 to take their team to remarkable victory. Great teamwork and great individual performances all throughout. Congrats Team Saurashtra @BCCIdomestic pic.twitter.com/sSG4fVWiys
— Saurashtra Cricket (@saucricket) January 28, 2019
The two wins fittingly demonstrated the fight-back spirit of the team. The special thing about wins was that both of them had come away from home.
Probable Starting XI:
Harvik Desai, Snell Patel (wk), Cheteshwar Pujara, Sheldon Jackson, Aarpit Vasavada, Prerak Mankad, Vishvaraj Jadeja, Kamlesh Makvana, Dharmendrasinh Jadeja, Jaydev Unadkat(C), Jay Chauhan, Chetan Sakariya, Samarth Vyas, Kishan Parmar
Vidarbha played its first match in 1929 and is also credited to have given India its first Test captain – Cottari Kanakaiya Nayudu, a Padma Bhushan awardee. CK Nayudu, as he was popularly known back then, had captained the Indian Team against England at the Lords in 1932.
Having played their first first-class cricket in the 1957–58 season, Vidarbha’s best years were in 1970-71 and 1995–96, when they managed to reach the quarter-finals of the Ranji Trophy.
However, they came of age in the 2017-18 edition when Vidarbha scripted the biggest upsets of the modern domestic Indian cricket by defeating Mumbai in the finals.
On one side, while Vidarbha had a dismal record of winning only 41 matches off the 259 first-class matches they had played, Delhi, on the other, had won 7 Ranji titles up to that time.
Notwithstanding the odds stacked against them and the pressure that comes with it, Vidarbha recorded a massive 547 runs in the second innings to give them a comfortable lead of 251 runs. They then wrapped Delhi for 280 runs to see off an easy 9-wicket victory. Rajneesh Gurbani was the man of the match with impressive figures of 6/59.
The triumph was no less than a fairytale come true, with it being the third biggest wait for a team to hold the trophy after making its debut in the tournament.
The road to the Finals
As expected, Vidarbha has been one of the best teams in the 2018-19 Ranji Trophy season so far. They started the campaign with three consecutive draws against Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Baroda before opening the account against Chhattisgarh with a big 10-wicket win. Vidarbha then followed it up with a defeat of Railways by 118 runs.
In their 7th match, a clash which was touted as the pick of group stages, Vidarbha summoned Mumbai to a massive defeat of an innings and 115 runs. Riding on Wasim Jaffer’s 178 against his former team, they scored 511 runs in the first innings. The score was always going to prove too much for the dismal visitors. Mumbai scored 252 runs in the first innings before putting a paltry 113 in the follow-on.
They finished the group stage with flying colours, winning three matches, drawing five matches to finish at the top of the Elite table with 29 points.
The quarter-final again saw Vidarbha putting up a marauding batting display that was too hot to handle for the minnows Uttarakhand. Having scored 355 against the defending champions may have raised Uttarakhand’s hopes minutely. However, Vidarbha scored a huge 629 run-total, aided by a record double century by Wasim Jaffer, to put the visitors straightaway out of the game.
Playing in unpredictable conditions like those in Wayanad was always going to be a big test for a team that relies on its batting. However, Vidarbha wrapped up Kerala in their own backyard for a paltry 91 runs in the third innings to comfortably win the semi-final by an innings and 11 runs. That victory also displayed their bowling prowess, with only two bowlers- Umesh Yadav and Yash Thakur – scalping up 9 wickets between themselves.
Probable Starting XI
Faiz Fazal (C), Wasim Jaffer, Mohit Kale, Sanjay Ramaswamy, Ganesh Satish, Akshay Wadkar (WK), Aditya Sarwate, Atharwa Taide, Umesh Yadav, Rajneesh Gurbani, Yash Thakur.
Ranji Trophy Live Broadcast
The 2018-19 Ranji Trophy final between Saurashtra and Vidarbha will be broadcasted live on Star Sports network and streamed live on Hotstar.
There is very little to differentiate between Saurashtra and Vidarbha. Their last match, an elite group stage match, ended in a stalemate. Both of them ended with the same points (29) and both had little problems in the knockouts.
Saurashtra is a very good team without a doubt, especially when it comes to batting. Players like Cheteshwar Pujara, Snell Patel, Harvik Desai, and Sheldon Jackson make for a formidable batting side. In the bowling department, they have skipper Jaydev Unadkat and Chetan Sakariya to take care of things. Moreover, their record playing away from home is unrivalled.
However, their habit of leaving things for late could work against them especially against an opponent like Vidarbha. In fact, Vidarbha is an exact opposite side when it comes to finishing off games. Through big hitters like Jaffer, Faiz Fazal, Sanjay Ramaswamy, and Akshay Wadkar, they like to score big in the first or the second innings itself, piling up the pressure on the opposition. Seasoned bowlers like Umesh Yadav, Aditya Sarwate, and Rajneesh Gurbani then take do the formalities of bowling out sides with fair ease.
This all-rounding display is what makes Vidarbha a lethal opposition to play against. They are ruthless and an outright dominating team brimming with confidence. With the momentum also going with them, Vidarbha will be the firm favourites to win their second Ranji Trophy in as many years.