A few months back Pushy, Baada and i had decided that we’ll write a weekly review of the domestic cricket season. Unfortunately, NED
struck and the project never took off. Baada even stopped general blogging. Anyways, I thought I’d just do a random roundup, if not for anything else, to just try and keep up some bit of a broken promise. If i start crafting an essay now, the thoughts in my head might escape me. So I’ll stick to bullet points.
- Karnataka seems to have been badly let down by its batsmen. The only game so far where they’ve even secured a first innings lead was against Himachal Pradesh, where Dravid led them with a double hundred (Karnataka went on to win the game by an innings). One look at the season’s run getters chart shows where Karnataka has been faltering – the highest run getter is Dravid, who has played only two games so far.
- The main reason for Karnataka doing so well last season was Robin Uthappa, who was the highest run getter in the season. He has badly failed this time, scoring a solitary fifty, and the rest of the batting hasn’t shown much teeth. The captain Yere Goud must be held singularly responsible for the loss to Saurashtra. Five to get from five balls with a wicket in hand, and he takes a single to give strike to the number eleven – who gets promptly bounced out.
- Interestingly, Karnataka’s bowlers seem to be doing quite well if one looks at the charts, with three of them in the top 10 among wicket takers. Apart from the ongoing match, they seem to have done quite well, only to have been let down by their batsmen.
- When the groups were formed, it was expected that Group A would be a quadrangular contest between Bombay, Delhi, TN and Karnataka. Delhi have performed to potential, topping the group. However, tied for second place with Bombay are the surprise packages of this competition – Saurashtra and Maharashtra. Even Rajasthan and HP, who bring up the rear in the group, have been no pushovers.
- Delhi has been helped by some extremely strong batting performances, with everyone save Sehwag contributing and making big hundreds. Aakash Chopra made a strong claim for a recall to the Indian team. However, in the name of aggression Sehwag has been preferred. Delhi have also been well served by their bowlers with Pradeep Sangwan being outstanding. They haven’t really missed the injured Ashish Nehra and Ishant, who is in the national team.
- Saurashtra received a boost with their close win over Karnataka and they seem to be in a good position to qualify for the semis. It is likely to be a kind of knockout between them and Bombay in the final round. Cheteshwar Pujara tops the run scoring chart, while their fast bowling pair of Jobanputra and Maniar have done extremely well. Jobanputra also chipped in with a crucial lower order fifty against Karnataka.
- However, the surprise package of the group has been Maharashtra, who till recently seemed to be in an excellent position to qualify. However, given that they aren’t doing too well in the ongoing game, they may not make it. Read this piece by Siddharth Monga for more about the team. I don’t think I can add anything to that.
- Group B has been much more closely contested, with only two points separating the last six teams, and Baroda qualifying easily. Newly promoted Orissa were thought to be the whipping boys of this group. However, a couple of strong performances – led by the indefatigable Debashis Mohanty – have put them in a good position to even challenge for the title. Bengal, with their excellent pace attack, prepared a green top at Siliguri, only for the idea to backfire with Debashis Mohanty and B Mohanty (a debutant) belting Bengal. This match reminded me of the Hyderabad-Bengal game last season, where Hyderabad prepared a green top at home, and it had backfired badly with Bose coming up with a superb performance.
- Speaking of Bengal, they were expected to do well this season given the return from injury of SS Paul to partner Bose with the new ball. However, due to a large number of defections to the ICL, their batting has become over-reliant on Manoj Tiwary, and has sunk and swam with his performances. Their captain LR Shukla is now playing almost as a specialist batsman and bowls only occasionally. If you recall, he was in the shortlist for the 1999 World Cup as a fast bowling all-rounder! Thankfully, when it came to final selection, the selectors had looked beyond the shortlist and picked Mohanty. Anyways, Bengal has collapsed once again to UP, with a bowling pitch at the Eden Gardens backfiring badly.
- The thing with group B is that a large number of teams have been badly hit by the ICL. Bengal lost half its batsmen and its keeper. Hyderabad lost all but two players from last season (hat tip: Baada). Arjun Yadav, son of ex-India off-spinner Shivlal Yadav, has hit back strongly at critics who said that he was made captain because of “quota”. He seems to be Hyderabad’s most consistent run getter this season. They seemed to be prime candidates for relegation from their group until their come from behind win over Andhra. Given the volatility of the group, one won’t be surprised if they qualify for the semis.
- My bet for relegation from this group is Punjab. They too have been badly hit by the ICL, and playing their last game now (this group has an odd number of teams, so Punjab gets a bye in the last round), yet to win a game and are joint last in the group. My prediction is that Mohanty at Mohali will be too much for Punjab to handle, and they are unlikely to beat Orissa.
- UP have had a mixed season, and are still joint last in the group. However, I expect them to beat Bengal in this round and stay afloat. Raina has been batting well, but Kaif hasn’t. Chawla too has been okay-ish and I think they’ve missed RP. They should stay on I think.
- Any new India hopefuls? Raina might have been knocking back on the door, but unfortunately for him, the batting lineup in both forms seems quite saturated, and he might have to wait a while more. Pujara will continue making it to shortlists but I don’t expect him to be capped soon. Basically if Yuvraj is finding it tough to get a spot in the test squad, none of these chaps can, unless he’s a specialist opener. And looking down the list of run getters, the top openers are the discarded Chopra and Ravi Teja of Hyderabad and LNP Reddy of Andhra. Don’t see any of them making it. As mentioned earlier, Uthappa has failed badly this season, else he might have stood a chance in the longer variety.
- Amongst bowlers, Pankaj Singh has already made it to the squad. And despite their splendid performances I don’t see the likes of Ashok Thakur (HP) or Sandeep Jobanputra making it – if not for anything else, they are left armers and we have a surfeit of them in the national team right now. The same logic might keep out Pradeep Sangwan, who looks like a decent prospect. He might make it sometime in the future.
- And of course, the best part of the season has been the two close finishes in the previous round. Both games went right down to the wire, with all three results having a significantly non-zero probability when the last ball was bowled. I read on cricinfo that in the history of Ranji trophy there have been less than five games with a victory margin of less than five runs. And now you have a 2-run margin and a 3-run margin. What joy!
- And a word also has to be written about the changed points system. Now, teams earn a point if they draw a game after conceding a first innings lead. This has significantly contributed to making the game more interesting.
Phew, never imagined I’d write so much. I know that I should’ve been doing this more regularly.