Monday, December 29, 2008

Competition Thrives in Ranji Trophy

Posted by Soulberry

Ranji Trophy Super League 2008-09 - 4th quarter final, Tamil Nadu v Bengal


With the media emphasis gradually shifting in India to international fixtures, it was natural for domestic cricket to gradually slip out of consciousness of Indians. Unlike the County Cricket system, there isn't any provision for lay public to become members of their home team or subscribe to their state team, in return for tickets at concessional rates or preference, on an annual basis. Thus, involvement and loyalties are casualties. Also, it is often human tendency to imagine that what doesn't figure in one's consciousness cannot be of good quality.

Ranji Trophy matches have acquired the image of mediocrity and lack of competitiveness for perhaps this reason. However, it isn't all that way. Ever since the Super League and Plate system has come in, more matches have been keenly contested than ever before. Gone are the days when first innings leads satisfied players and supporters - now, it is difficult to digest anything less than a win unless it is a hard-fought draw. It is possible that the willingness of the BCCI to expose a larger pool of players to international cricket may also be an incentive besides the spin offs of IPL and improved pay/reward structure for good performances.

This quarter-final match showed how teams are willing to compete till the final ball.

At the end of day one, as we noted earlier,Return to.. bengal were working their way out of strife on the back of Manoj Tiwary's innings. They weren't out of the woods yet, neither were they as deep in it.

Day Two

The fall of Tiwary in the seventh over of the morning, to a clever piece of bowling by Balaji, undid Bengal's ambition of batting Tamil Nadu out of the match. After that it was a collapse and Bengal had just about enough on the board to give it an honest shot. Bengal hinges on Tiwary and to an extent, Saha.

Boy, and did they give a shot! M Vijay plays from a tall stance and likes to take the ball on the rise. If the feet move well, it looks great, otherwise it can be perilious. Without wasting much time, the canny Ranadeb Bose decided to check out the new India bat's footwork. It was found wanting and as is usual in such situations, the end result looks very lame.

Vijay has an Utthappa-ish game. However, he appeared more compact and selective than Robin in the test match innings he played. But these are all batsmen who belong to the new emerging cult of Sehwaggian openers without the body dynamics, spatial distribution and relative interactivity of their joint positions, and the weight transfer protocols of their prototype engine.

One spends some time on Vijay because he is considered a prospect for the country. These rough edges will have to be addressed by him. As matters turned out it is the same fallacy which prevented him from actualizing a century in the winning sprint later. More of that in a timely manner.

Within no time, Tamil Nadu were in trouble. Badri didn't look in it at all. Mukund was shaping up well but gave it away in a silly run-out.

Even experienced campaigners like KD playes flashily when a little bit of caution would have paid dividends. Vidyut Sivaramakrishnan did nothing to dispell the air of casualness about him. Towards the end of the day, KD went for his shots and spooned one behind him off the back of the bat trying to sweep and was done in by a beautiful catch. Somehow one felt that sweep could have waitied and KD appeared interested to get to his 50 before close.

When TN finished at 188/5, they had perhaps given away their advantage.

Third Day

Bengal stole off with the sessions. Only Suresh Kumar, an all rounder, remained between Bengal and the crucial lead. When Kumar fell to a Tiwary googly at 75, an inside edge taken, it looked like that lead could be decisively big in favour of Bengal. The tigers were right on top.

Balaji has given us some moments to smile about in the past. This day, he decided to bring the bat with which he clouted Shoaib Akhtar. But didn't he break that one? The body of it yes, the spirit being intact.

It was he with typical late-order batting falvour foisted Tamil Nadu back into the game with just an outside chance dependent on their future efforts. A small lead and time on hand.

The Match Turns

Bengal batting has been shaky and completely dependent upon Tiwary and Saha to an extent. The Jimmy Amarnath coached team of Tamil Nadu came out with the fighting spirit they have displayed this season. The first wicket was in the bag in no time at all, Ganapathy pocketing Chowdhury for nought.

Manoj Tiwary came in...a completely changed batting order (could this have upset the rhythm of Bengal?) which saw all the big guns come at the top (Saha opening)...Bengal appeared to have wrested back the momentum in their favour. Then Balaji got into his act. He picked his first of the innings in removing the threatening Saha.

R Ashwin chipped in with the most decisive wicket of all. He tempted Tiwary to sweep ( a shot which felled a few luminaries in this match) and the spliced loop was no trouble at all for Suresh Kumar. Gone for 42 and I felt then that Bengal had thrown it away.

Laxmi Shukla has lasted out the years but he isn't the kind you would readily bank upon for a match saving innings. he didn't look it but he gutsed it out to somehow keep Bengal in the game only four wickets down at close.

All the best players were expended at the top and Bengal were only a couple of wickets away from disaster. The day closed on the hunter, who now spent the night worrying as the hunted despite the lead.

Balaji Day

My good friend and fellow Ranji Chronicler, N Balajhi advised caution to my enthusiasm on seeing L Balaji swing it both ways. He was correct of course...the speed was off and all that stuff which makes you less effective on the international stage...but he was lethal today. It was as if he had a magic wand to the ball as he sliced through the Bengal order to end up with six dangerous wickets. dangerous because they tempt you to call him up for national attention. I am tempted to ignore my friend's good advice and call for more of Balaji!

Anyway, the gist of the story is the ball moved out, the ball moved in, the batsmen didn't have a clue. Not since Irfan Pathan lost it have we seen consistent swing like Balaji showed us.

Tamil Nadu won the match (and qualified for the semis in dramatic fashion) which at many times belonged to one or the other.

At the start of the season, when TN began brightly, we felt this could be a good year for them.

I am not so sure that they can dent Bombay with moments of looseness slipping into their game as it did in this match. Bombay is playing some good solid cricket.

One question, what about YoMa? Where's he?

- - -

Competition thrives in the Ranji circuit for sure. We saw it in the above match and we haven't yet touched upn Cheteshwar Pujara and Saurashtra doing a David to the Karnataka Goliath. That's because it wasn't telecast during the day. There will obviously be a separate article on that match and Pujara Power.


Friday, December 26, 2008

Domestic Cricket Returns to the Screen

Posted by Soulberry

Bengal vs Tamil Nadu


Yesterday, I had a bit of time since noon and I took a chance with Neo Television. Running the risk of being straddled with the umpteenth replay of some past match for the effort, one was pleasantly surprised to see the "Live" tag in the right top corner of the screen. "Hold on there" one thought, "India can't be playing unless one has missed something!"

Sure enough, one was rewarded within the minute for the patience and risk; the band appeared at the bottom of the screen proclaiming the title of the match - Bengal v Tamil Nadu - and Manoj Tiwary (I haven't given up on him like the selectors) at the crease with Wriddhiman Saha. Live Ranji action was back on television! Thanks had given up hope and something's surely better than nothing.

Keeping Riches

India is not limited to Mahendra Singh Dhoni for a wicketkeeper batsman. It has every possible combination available for the wicketkeeper-batsman's slot. If Dhoni is now a combination of passable 'keeper, improving test batsman and divine skipper, then there is KD Karthik who is a much better test batsman and a determined keeper. Then there is the evergreen Parthiv Patel, perhaps as good a batsman as KD Karthik, comparable with Dhoni in the shorter game, unfortunately perhaps a stagnated gloveman.

Shreevats Goswami is a combination of youth and promise. An attacking age-group opener and an agile keeper, this lad will be on the radar in the times ahead.

But the man who has really forced himself into public consciousness with his self-belief is Wriddhiman Saha of Bengal. Here is a batsman who is probably the best of the lot. Well, KD Karthik could be a nose ahead in the longer game stakes, but is probably the best gloveman in the country at the moment.

He comes one-down for Bengal which not only is good for the lad and must continue, but also reveals the esteem in which his team holds his batsmanship. And Bengal is no mean team in the Ranji circuit.

I settled back to watch him and one of my favorite young players, Manoj Tiwary, play.

Saha disappointed me with just a fifty even though it was in the manner I have come to expect of him. A short treat yesterday and hopefully it shall be a full course meal tomorrow to push the boys around a bit. Maybe more if he can plough through the unfortunate times for Indian 'keepers who must wait fo Dhoni to hang up his gloves.

The Forgotten Debutant

Manoj Tiwary played a gem. In fact he is still playing it. He hasn't had a great time of it since his shoulder injury did him in on the brink of a test debut in the India nets back in 2007.

Following his surgery, it has been a gradual process of recovery.

Ever since I saw him play two seasons ago (before Pujara) I felt this man must play for India in future. Perhaps as a replacement for Dravid when that time comes. He had his opportunity much sooner; in fact, soon after India's disastrous World Cup 2007. His enthusiasm during the fielding drills resulted in a fall which upset his shoulder and the rest, as they say, is history. Manoj Tiwary became history as well.

The current domestic season hasn't been too kind to him either; the requisite volume of runs were simply not there even if the averages were reasonably good. And he had just two hundreds with a top score of 109 in a season where multiple triple centuries aren't enough to get you a national call-up ( Cheteshwar Pujara). So it is in this background that the forgotten miss-debutant played this innings against the raging fashion of this season's Ranji - Tamil Nadu.

Anyone who saw him play yesterday would have been delighted - by the way he stepped forward and leaned over the ball and clipped it neatly off his toes to the mid-wicket boundary. Or with the languid precision with which he leaned back just enough, on his toes, to square cut the rising ball which perforated the space between two fielders and ended up at the point boundary. And did you see that forward defence? So correct that you could take a photograph of it if you could and post it as an example for learners and regulars alike. You mind told you he should be playing with the big boys, your head shook side-to-side suggesting that'll probably not happen anytime soon, and your heart screamed out for the lad, raging against the bad luck which dogged him at the threshold.

Yesterday's innings bore the hallmark of Manoj Tiwary - it was unmistakably his - watch out for more today as the man wants to make it a really big one this time. He had that look in his eyes and his body spoke such a language.

134 not out is where he will begin today. Pleasing as his game was yesterday, I urge connosuiers to watch him play today if they missed yesterday. Let's not forget this young man - he and Pujara are the two who must be the first replacements/inductees in the senior team.


He still swings the ball both ways. India could use that. The pace is a bit off though and he has no wickets to show yet. Tamil Nadu would be hoping he can address that situation today.

There is plenty to look forward to in this match. The in-form TN batsmen are yet to play. And can one forget D Chakrabarty's innings yesterday? makes you wonder if the batsmen are really getting better at the domestic level or are the bowlers becoming poorer?

Bengal are still in strife - someone will have to stay long enough with Manoj Tiwary to set up a challenge to the Tamil Nadu cavaliers.



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