Ranji Trophy

Ranji Trophy highlights: Vijay-Rahul return to form, Mumbai (just about) draw 500th game

Mayank Agarwal made heads turn, while Rishabh Pant’s run drought continued.

Another round of Ranji Trophy action came to an end on Sunday, with the group stages drawing to a close. As has been the case this year, plenty of runs were scored.

Here are the talking points that emerged from the round.

Indian openers

The Sri Lanka Test series is upon us. The last time India played a Test series against the islanders (well, not too far back, actually) Shikhar Dhawan made the most of his last minute call-up after an injury to M Vijay. Partnering KL Rahul at the top, he was India’s highest run-getter in that series.

While Vijay made his comeback to cricket in the Ranji Trophy opener this season, Rahul was having a bit of a slump himself. He was dropped from the limited overs series against Australia and New Zealand, and was told to concentrate on first-class cricket with Karnataka. So, here we were, with India’s first choice opening pair for Tests, searching for form as the longer format resumes.

And in the last match before the first Test starts in Kolkata on Thursday, both Vijay and Rahul made sure they got game time and runs under their belt. Vijay made a typically patient 140 in the first innings against Odisha, while Rahul made a stroke-filled 92 in the second innings of Karnataka’s match against Delhi. Vijay’s 21st first-class century came after an injury scare in the previous rounds. And the Chennai lad made sure he is in the reckoning after a lean run.

“The wicket was a bit tricky in the morning and I just played my natural game for the team. Ahead of the Sri Lanka series, I wanted to get a lot of batting. This is exactly what I wanted to take - some positive momentum. I want to contribute in any given opportunity,” Vijay said after the match.

Rahul’s 92 off 109 balls against a potent Delhi attack would also have done him a world of good and one can expect the duo to walk out together when the curtains raise against Sri Lanka.

Honourable mention: He might not be in India’s plans anymore but Gautam Gambhir did what he does best by making a gritty century – his 41st in first-class cricket and second of the season – with his teammates failing around him. It was not enough for Delhi who conceded a first innings lead to Karnataka.

Mumbai’s rearguard

A landmark moment for a legendary team. Forty-one-time champions Mumbai’s 500th Ranji Trophy game was meant to a celebration of their dominance, their rich legacy. But instead, it boiled down to a scrap for the Mumbaikars at the Wankhede on the final day, hanging by a thread to avoid an innings defeat.

Mumbai survived. Image: PTI
Mumbai survived. Image: PTI

Baroda dominated Mumbai from the word go, dismissing them for 171 in the first innings, before piling up 575/9 and declaring. Mumbai were then hurtling towards an innings defeat, losing four wickets on day four and Ajinkya Rahane early on day five, to be down to 121/5. A draw, and a crucial point, looked out of reach before a rearguard action by the lower middle-order.

It was thanks mainly to Siddhesh Lad, who remained unbeaten on 71 after staying at the crease for two minutes over five hours and facing 238 balls in the Mumbai second innings score of 260/7 at the Wankhede Stadium. The scenes in the last hour of the match with Baroda needing three wickets to claim an outright win, the fielders were breathing down the Mumbai batsmen’s necks. But with Abhishek Nayyar drawing all his experience, Lad ensured Mumbai earned a hard-fought point.

The bowlers who stood up

As has been the pattern this year, the latest round of Ranji matches once again saw batsmen dominate and pile up big totals. But with top wicket-taker Jalaj Saxena (Kerala) not in action, a few bowling efforts stood out.

Spoiling Mumbai’s party in their historic 500th Ranji Trophy match was Baroda’s pace-bowling duo of Atit Sheth and Lukman Meriwala, wrecking the vaunted bowling line-up for a paltry 171 on day one. It was a combination of impressive swing and seam bowling from right-arm Atit (5/50) and left-arm Meriwala (5/52) that provided a sucker punch to Mumbai’s aspirations for a win.

Baroda's Atit Sheth and Lukman Meriwala picked five wickets each (PTI)
Baroda's Atit Sheth and Lukman Meriwala picked five wickets each (PTI)

Parvez Rasool, the J&K captain, who also top-scored with 70 in the second innings to help stretch the lead past 300, took 5/99 as his side recorded the first win of this season against Jharkhand. This was his 12th five-for in first-class cricket, and his seven wickets in the match saw his tally for the season go up to 27, joint-second with a resurgent Piyush Chawla.

For Karnataka, it was Abhimanyu Mithun who found his stride with a decisive five-wicket haul against Delhi that gave his side the crucial first innings lead. With Delhi looking to bat out the final day on a placid track, Mithun produced a spell in which he accounted for four batsmen for 14 runs in six overs, finishing with 5/70, to make sure his side got the three points.

Mayank Agarwal making heads turn

A triple century in the previous round, followed by a daddy hundred against Delhi in Alur – things are looking up again for the ever-talented, but often-under performing Mayank Agarwal. His 176 off 250 balls, including 24 fours and three sixes, was the highlight of Karnataka’s performance against Delhi. With KL Rahul back in the side as an opener, Agarwal moved to a less-familiar No 3 slot but continued his good form this season. He was not picked by an IPL franchise in the last edition, but should he keep this form up, a call-up in the 11th edition should be a reality.

Rishabh Pant’s slump

With questions over MS Dhoni’s position as India’s wicket-keeper (mainly in the shortest format), the calls for grooming a successor is growing louder by the series. But the man who was anointed as the heir-apparent after a phenomenal 2016 Ranji season, has just not clicked into gear this year. With 190 runs from six first class innings (scores of 11, 15, 67, 30, 26, and 41) Pant has hit a brick-wall compared to his mammoth numbers from last year. As captain of Delhi in the last two games, there’s additional pressure on the 20-year-old to come good, but Delhi coach KP Bhaskar insists he will turn it around.

“He may not be showing it, but deep down I’m sure he must be feeling it. Now that he is out of the [India] side, he has realised it and I’m sure he must be working hard on his temperament,” Bhaskar was quoted as saying during the match against Karnataka, when he played a rash shot at a crucial juncture before his side went on to concede the first innings lead. “His body language is the same as it was last year, but he looks much fitter, and his keeping has definitely improved.”

Leaderboard

And after five rounds of matches, here’s how the top three bowlers and batsmen are shaping up.

With inputs from PTI

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