New Delhi: Round one of the 2012-13 Ranji Trophy season was a good contest – bar the soggy washout between Odisha and Tamil Nadu at Cuttack – with five outright wins and gripping, hard-fought draws at Indore and Nadaun.
Three teams grabbed seven points to top their respective groups as the first round came to an end with three close finishes, and there also very few dull draws. The round also saw 16 centuries scored, including two doubles – one from a debutant, the other a domestic journeyman – and nine five-wicket hauls, with Rajasthan’s Pankaj Singh starting the season with nine wickets against Bengal.
Making it large
Of the 16 centuries scored in round one, four resulted in victories. In Guwahati, former Maharashtra batsman turned Assam captain Dheeraj Jadhav hit 243 – 17 short of his career-best – to set up the base for his team’s ten-wicket win over Tripura, who were led by former India wicketkeeper Ajay Ratra. Jhadav’s double-century was the second-highest score in Assam history after Zahir Alam’s 257 also against Tripura in Guwahati in the 1991-92 season.
At the PCA Stadium, 21-year-old opener Jiwanjot Singh became only the fifth Indian to score a double-century on first-class debut as Punjab took a huge first-innings lead over Hyderabad. His 288-run opening stand with Karan Goel (129) was eight runs short of their state’s record, set by Vikram Rathour and Navjot Singh Sidhu at the save venue, but more importantly it paved the way for a total of 565 for 6. Punjab won by an innings.
Signs of more to come?
There were a few maiden first-class centuries in the round, with some young and promising batsmen stepping up for the respective teams when the chips were down.
Perhaps the most impressive was 17-year-old Sanju Samson’s unbeaten 127 out of Kerala’s total of 229 – the next best was 26. Samson batted 309 minutes and 207 balls, hitting 12 fours and four sixes, to try and avoid a total disaster from the depths of 46 for 4 and later 111 for 7. The innings drew praise from Himachal captain Aakash Chopra, who was also left highly impressed with allrounder Rishi Dhawan’s maiden ton – in all formats - in the same match.
In Ghaziabad, young Mukul Dagar scored 116 off 214 balls in just his second first-class match to play a big role in Uttar Pradesh’s six-wicket win over a star-studded Delhi.
Backs to the wall
One point. That’s all Madhya Pradesh and Kerala got from sapping, nail-biting final-day efforts at Indore and Nadaun respectively. But what efforts they were.
At the Holkar Stadium, MP’s eighth-wicket pair of Anand Rajan and Jalaj Saxena batted 24.3 overs and 97 tense minutes to avert a defeat for the home team against Gujarat. With that heroic rearguard effort, MP earned one point but robbed three from Gujarat who would have fancied their chances of an outright win when the seventh wicket fell for 203. Chasing 407 for an improbable win, MP looked down for the count at 179 for 6 while Gujarat were eyeing six points instead of three. But Saxena displayed immense concentration to bat out 115 balls for 52 runs, while Rajan – after a season high 7 for 77 in Gujarat’s first innings – ate up 64 balls for nine as MP finished on 248 for 7 in 96 overs. It was a bloody tough scrap.
Farther north, Kerala were indebted to a fine century from Rohan Prem as they earned a draw and denied Himachal four points on an engaging final day. Prem’s unbeaten 104 spanned 301 minutes and 221 deliveries and his dogged partnerships of 99 in 42 overs with Robert Fernandez and 65 in 28 overs with Raiphi Gomez left the home side frustrated.
Kerala started the final day on 28 for 3, still 279 runs in arrears, and slipped to 92 for 5. Still 215 adrift of making Himachal bat again, it appeared that Chopra’s team was set for an outright win. But Prem and Fernandez stubbornly tried to ward off an innings defeat. Though he lost Fernandez for a 122-ball 31, Prem found admirable support from Gomez (15 off 86) as he moved to his fifth first-class century and Kerala escaped with a draw.
Internationals make their presence felt
There was also the value addition of several of India’s Test stars turning out for their state teams. At the Wankhede Stadium, Sachin Tendulkar marked his first Ranji Trophy appearance since Mumbai's final win in 2008-09 with a stroke-filled century in the company of Ajinkya Rahane against Railways in a match in which Zaheer Khan – albeit briefly – rolled his arm over. In Ghaziabad, a Delhi side captained by Virender Sehwag and featuring Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli and Ishant Sharma lost to Suresh Raina’s Uttar Pradesh for whom Praveen Kumar hit a brisk half-century. In Mohali, Harbhajan Singh celebrated his return to India’s Test squad with an innings victory over Hyderabad, who were captained by VVS Laxman and had Pragyan Ojha as their bowling spearhead. In Vadodara, Irfan Pathan hit his first Ranji Trophy century as Baroda recovered from 88 for 4 in the first innings against Karnataka.
A shot of pace
This round was not just about runs - there were four significant performances from pace bowlers. The first came from Umesh Yadav, whose devastating burst in Lahli skittled hosts Haryana for a paltry 55 in 37.1 overs on day one. Yadav proved almost unplayable in helpful conditions, beginning with an outstanding spell of 6-6-0-1 an ending with 5 for 18.
In Ghaziabad, Imtiaz Ahmed picked up his maiden five-wicket haul for UP. The 26-year-old, playing only his seventh first-class match, came instantly into the limelight when he took the wickets of Gambhir and Mithun Manhas, a domestic veteran, besides mopping up the tail. That analysis proved huge in the outcome of the match.
What he lacks in pace, Pankaj Singh makes up for with heart and determination. While much of the focus at Eden Gardens was on whether Ashok Dinda would claim a bagful of wicket to push his claim for Test selection, it was Pankaj who walked away with nine wickers in the drawn match. With assistance overhead and underfoot, the tall and strapping bowler took his 15th five-wicket haul in his 62nd match and followed it with four in Bengal’s second innings.
In Mohali, 22-year-old Siddarth Kaul’s 5 for 53 proved instrumental to Punjab beating Hyderabad by an innings. The right-arm pacer bowled a telling three-wicket burst on the third evening to have Ravi Teja, Vihari and Pagadala Naidu all caught behind by his brother Uday, and on the final morning he removed Arjun Yadav for 0 and nine runs later got the big wicket of Laxman for 67 to complete his five-wicket haul.
By scoring his second first-class century in four matches, Himachal’s Amit Kumar boasts a career batting average of 155.50. The 22-year-old followed team-mate Paras Dogra with a 101 off 186 balls along with Dhawan to set up the base for an outright win as Himachal stretched their lead to 307 before Chopra declared at 536 for 6.
The rising star
Jiwanjot, of the double-century on first-class debut fame, has begun his career on a very promising not. The youngster’s 213 was a lesson in batting out sessions while playing with a straight bat, and critically set up a declaration that allowed Punjab to push for an outright win. As Jiwanjot told Cricketnext, the important part is not being distracted.
The pleasure you get watching a domestic game
Nitin Chouhan, our reporter who covered the Ghaziabad game, reflects: “Covering a domestic game was at its best in Ghaziabad. Everything about the game: people's turn-out at the venue, with long queues to get inside to see stars play; the quality of cricket on display, thanks to the presence of star players like Sehwag, Gambhir, Kohli, Raina and others; and the hospitality of the host association made it a worthwhile experience, despite the difficulties faced for going to cover it for four days. There is everything present there which gave it a feel of covering any international game.
The excitement that I noticed all round in those four days exemplifies one thing - that if you get to see some of the best players showcase their skills and if there is a will to organise these games properly, it can generate a fan following which will remain for a lifetime.