Both Vidarbha and Saurashtra will have a chance to etch their names in the record book when they meet in the Ranji Trophy final on Sunday, 3 February, in Nagpur. Vidarbha will be eyeing their second title and in the process will be looking to become the fifth team to win back-to-back seasons. On the other hand, Saurashtra will be vying to win their first Ranji Trophy title after Independence. They have won the title twice – once in 1936-37 as Nawanagar and later in 1943-44 as Western India.
Before Sunday’s final, Vidarbha and Saurashtra have met six times in the Ranji Trophy, with Vidarbha holding a slender edge. Out of those six matches, Vidarbha won two while Saurashtra won one. The other three encounters all ended in a draw.
Both finalists have contrasting records as far Ranji finals are concerned. While Vidarbha were successful in their first final appearance last season, Saurashtra have had forgetful outings. They lost to Mumbai by an innings in 2012-13 and 2015-16.
However, despite these slight differences, the Ranji Trophy final this season will truly be a match of equals. Here’s why.
During the group stages both Vidarbha and Saurashtra were in the same group – Elite Group A. At the end of the group stages both teams had identical records. Vidarbha and Saurashtra finished with 29 points and secured the first and the second spots respectively. Out of the eight matches, both sides won three games and drew five. In fact, when they met earlier during the group stage, the match ended in a draw. The only thing differentiating both the sides was the quotient, where Vidarbha (1.332) pipped Saurashtra (1.108) to take the top spot.
Road to the Final
In the knock-out stages, Vidarbha were in the driver’s seat in the quarter-final as well as in the semi-final. Both their wins differed greatly from each other, with complete dominance being the common theme.
In the quarter-final, Vidarbha batsmen scored 629 runs after their bowlers dismissed Uttarakhand for 355. Wasim Jaffer, Sanjay Ramaswamy and Aditya Sarwate scored centuries. Later, with the ball, Sarwate went on to take five wickets, along with Umesh Yadav, who also accounted for five wickets, to dismiss Uttarakhand for a mere 159. Vidarbha won by an innings and 115 runs.
Meanwhile, Saurashtra got themselves out of a tricky situation against Uttar Pradesh. After bowling the opposition out for 385, Saurashtra were bowled out for 208. But spinner Dharmendrasinh Jadeja and fast bowler Chetan Sakariya tilted the scales in Saurashtra’s favour as they took seven wickets among themselves to bowl Uttar Pradesh out for 194. With 372 in sight, Saurashtra batsmen didn’t allow further slip up as they chased down the target with six wickets in hand. Opener Harvik Desai scored a century, while Snell Patel, Cheteshwar Pujara and Sheldon Jackson finished with fifty-plus scores.
The script didn’t change much for Vidarbha in the semis. After witnessing a complete domination by batsmen in the quarters, it was the bowlers’ turn to hog the limelight. Senior pro Umesh Yadav was at the forefront, claiming 12 wickets in the match. In the first innings, Yadav picked up seven wickets to dismiss Kerala for 106 runs. Vidarbha were all out for 208 before Yadav picked five more to bundle Kerala out for 91. Vidarbha won by an innings and 11 runs.
In Saurashtra’s case, they had to toil hard against Karnataka to get an entry into the final. In what was a very controversial match, Pujara, the India number three, came to Saurashtra’s rescue. Chasing a target of 279 for a spot in the final, Saurashtra made a mess of it after they were reduced to 23/3. It was Pujara’s 131 not out and Sheldon Jackson’s 100, which saw the side home. The duo shared a match-winning stand of 214 runs to set up a five-wicket victory.
Match-Winners in Both Teams
As the group and the knockout stages have made it evident, both Vidarbha and Saurashtra not only have a cohesive unit but are also laden with match-winners. If Vidarbha has the talismanic Wasim Jaffer leading the batting for them, Saurashtra have a Cheteshwar Pujara in their ranks, ably supported by Sheldon Jackson.
After guiding his new side to title success last season, it was a similar story for Jaffer this season too. In the 10 matches he has played, Jaffer has breached the 1,000-run mark, at an average of 77.15. He has scored four centuries, including a double hundred, and two half-centuries in these 10 matches.
Sunday’s final would be Jaffer’s tenth Ranji final. He’s played eight of them with Mumbai. In the previous nine finals, he has scored a whopping 948 runs, which came at an average of 67.71. The finals saw three centuries and seven half-centuries from him.
Captain Faiz Fazal (726) and wicket keeper Akshay Wadkar (680), with three centuries each, complete the formidable batting line-up for the defending champions.
As far as Saurashtra are concerned, their batting has become a double-edged sword since the arrival of Pujara.
After a successful Test series down under, Pujara carried the momentum to his domestic side. In the three matches he has played, the batsman has scored 310 runs, which included a century and two half-centuries. In his five innings, he averages a whopping 103.33.
However, despite such impressive numbers, Pujara is just the second-best batsman in the side this season. It has been Sheldon Jackson, who has been shouldering Saurashtra’s batting this season. Sheldon’s tally stands at 838 from 10 matches. This includes two centuries and seven half-centuries.
Apart from these two, Harvik Desai (763) and Snell Patel (646) have also done well.
Not only the batsmen, the bowling units have also ably bore the responsibility for the sides.
For Vidarbha, Aditya Sarwate leads the pack with 44 wickets from 10 outings. At a stellar average of 21.02, Aditya has accounted for four five-wicket hauls this season, with the best being 6/43. Meanwhile, he is only six scalps away from finishing with the most number wickets by a Vidarbha bowler in a Ranji season. Currently the record is held by his teammate Akshay Wakhare, who finished with 49 wickets in the 2015-16 Ranji season.
Umesh Yadav’s 12/79 in the semis came during what was only his second match in the season. With 13 wickets from two matches at an average of 9.14, Yadav might be a cause of concern for Saurashtra’s batsmen in the final.
Twenty-eight-year-old Dharmendrasinh Jadeja has already amassed 52 wickets this season and has the taken most number of wickets for Saurashtra in a year. In the 10 matches he has played he has finished with 52 wickets, with best figures of 7/55 coming against Maharashtra during the group stages.
In the final, he will be partnering skipper Jaydev Unadkat, who has led from the front with the ball. In the seven matches he has played this season, Unadkat is the second highest wicket taker for his side with 35 wickets.
With both sides on such level terms in every aspect of the game, it will be interesting to see who comes out on top in the battle of equals.
(Statistics by Arun Gopalakrishnan)