Gone are the days when the Ranji Trophy was regularly dominated by heavyweights who bullied less experienced teams. This change was brought by Rajasthan in the 2010-11 season, when they emerged from nowhere to defy expectations and lift the title.
For Rajasthan, it was a dream run last season and one that continues. More importantly, Rajasthan started the movement and gave smaller teams a chance to dream and believe that they were also worthy enough to challenge the best. In 2011-12, their success story spilled over to inspire Madhya Pradesh and Haryana.
MP, who made it to the Elite Division after a seven-year gap, made it as far as the quarter-finals while Haryana marched to the semi-finals for the first time since 1990-91. MP turned things around after a bad start to their Ranji campaign against Baroda, in which they were bowled out for 63 in the first innings. The huge defeat against Baroda acted as a catalyst and spurred the team on a winning mode. They took a first-innings lead against Bengal, went on to beat Gujarat and Delhi and forced Haryana to follow-on.
TP Sudhindra, the team's strike bowler and leading wicket-taker in the Elite Division with 40 scalps at 18.70, felt that the Baroda loss was a major turning point. "In the Baroda match we made some silly mistakes, but the players had a strong self-belief to fight back and were encouraged by the skipper and coach," he told Cricketnext. "More importantly what helped MP was the pre-season preparation and tour to Colombo."
MP's progression to the quarter-finals was achieved without any star players and professionals; they played as a unit and lifted their ante when required. In their second match against Bengal, they were again tested as Manoj Tiwary powered Bengal to 496. Another setback was on the offing, but Naman Ojha scored his first hundred of the season and Mohnish Mishra 132 to take MP to 533.
The highlight for MP this season was their pace attack, led by the experienced Sudhindra. He was well supported by Ishwar Pandey and they both hunted in pairs. The win over Gujarat owed plenty to Sudhindra's nine wickets and Pandey's seven - their pair each took six-wicket hauls in the match - and in the two-wicket victory over Delhi would not have been possible without Sudhindra's nine-wicket bag. "We [Pandey and I] really enjoy bowling together and as a pair make a great combination and this season things really worked in our favour," Sudhindra said.
MP this season got a taste of playing in the elite and competed with the best to finish behind Tamil Nadu in Group B. From here things look bright for them. "I believe this season we were the slow starters and what we lacked was aggression on the field, but came back strongly in the next matches and reach the quarters," said Sudhindra. "We are a young side learning things, but next season we will try to bring in the aggression and perform better in pressure situations."