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.
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.
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.
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?
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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.