Ranji Trophy final: Key players to watch out for

In the semifinal, Vidarbha dramatically punctured Karnataka, a team that looked suited to win back its glory after a two-year blip, to form the major highlight of its campaign and of the tournament itself. With goliath having been taken down, will Delhi be an easier challenge? We look at key players from both finalists who could shine in the final.

Rajneesh Gurbani (centre) is mobbed by team-mates after Vidarbha’s semifinal win.   -  Sampath Kumar G. P.

At the business end of an eventful and entertaining Ranji season, we have two finalists – strong teams but far from contemporary powerhouses. While Delhi has won the title seven times, the last time it reached the final of the tourney was back in 2007-08; for Vidarbha, it will be new territory.

The teams’ journeys have entailed plentiful decisive performances at crucial junctures to give those extra points, or convert potential drawn matches into victories. In the semifinal, Vidarbha dramatically punctured Karnataka, a team that looked suited to win back its glory after a two-year blip, to form the major highlight of its campaign and of the tournament itself. With goliath having been taken down, will Delhi be an easier challenge?

We look at key players from both finalists who could shine in the final.

In what could be a high-scoring finale at Indore, a solid base in terms of runs from Gautam Gambhir at the top would be valuable.   -  AKHILESH KUMAR

 

Gautam Gambhir: The veteran has become a run-machine for Delhi at the top of the order. In eight matches so far, the captain has scored 632 runs in eight matches at an average of 63.20, with three centuries and two fifties.

The southpaw began the league with a Player-of- the-Match performance against Assam, a knock of 137 in a comprehensive win. The only big knock that went in vain was 144 against Karnataka that couldn’t prevent a lopsided draw. He scored 86 against Uttar Pradesh (in the first innings) in a close win, and played decisive hands in the knockouts. His 95 in the second innings against Madhya Pradesh took Delhi calmly to its target of 217 without much fuss, and his 127 helped the team defeat Bengal by an innings.

In what could be a high-scoring finale at Indore, a solid base in terms of runs from Gambhir at the top would be valuable.

READ: Rishabh Pant: Need to play good cricket in the final

Vikas Mishra: The left-arm spinner may only have played 30 first-class matches in his career, but he knows how to intervene as a match winner. He has consistently taken wickets for Delhi all through the tournament, with some decisive spells that have swung matches in his team’s favour.

He is the highest wicket-taker for Delhi this season so far, with 32 wickets in six matches at an average of 21.50. Against Madhya Pradesh in the quarterfinals, his seven wickets were instrumental in Delhi’s eventual seven-wicket win. MP was bowled out for 338 and 283; his wickets ensured Delhi managed to eke out a first-innings lead and ensure an achievable target. His four-wicket haul in the first innings against Hyderabad helped Delhi take the crucial first-innings lead. Against Maharashtra, he took 4 for 90 in the second innings, helping gain an innings win, and his seven-wicket match haul against Railways allowed a comprehensive win for his side.

In the group stages, Faiz Fazal had three centuries in a row – against Bengal (he stitched a 259-run opening partnership on this occasion), Services and Chhattisgarh.   -  PTI

 

Faiz Fazal: The Vidarbha stalwart is one half of a prolific opening combination that has dominated the run charts this season. Fazal, however, has edged his partner (only slightly though), emerging as the top run-getter for his side and the second highest among all teams. He is likely to keep this spot, as the numero uno Mayank Agarwal possesses 317 more runs.

Fazal has scored 843 runs in eight matches, at an average of 76.63. He had a decisive hand in forcing a total surrender from Kerala in the quarterfinal, scoring 119 in the second innings as Vidarbha piled up 507 for 9 declared, eventually winning by 412 runs.

In the match that preceded the knockout stage, Fazal scored a double-century against Himachal – the 206 was his highest career score. The knock helped the team take a first-innings lead; his opening partner Sanjay Ramaswamy contributed 115 as the duo put on 264 for the first wicket. In the group stages, Fazal had three centuries in a row – against Bengal (he stitched a 259-run opening partnership on this occasion), Services and Chhattisgarh.

READ: Fazal: Vidarbha ready to do anything for maiden Ranji title

Sanjay Ramaswamy: Sanjay, the other half of this season’s notable opening combination, compiled 735 runs in eight matches at an average of 66.81, with three centuries and two fifties.

The 22-year- old right-hander has endured an indifferent knockout round, but was solid in the group stages. His 115 against Himachal helped take Vidarbha to three points; his 87 against Goa took his team to 427 for 3, a total that ensured an innings win. The foundation of another innings win, this time against Punjab, was laid by Sanjay, with a knock of 161.

Rajneesh Gurbani: The fast bowler generated headlines and stunned Karnataka with his spells in both innings of the semifinal. In what was a fiercely contested, topsy-turvy encounter, Gurbani ensured his team got its nose ahead – by five runs.

Especially in the second innings, it could be said he single-handedly, with a seven-wicket haul, gave Vidarbha the final berth. Even the rival camp, smarting from a heart-breaking loss, acknowledged his quality. Vinay Kumar, the Karnataka captain, said, “He made the difference. He bowls in the areas where we found it uncomfortable.”

Gurbani’s match haul of 12 for 162 has propelled him not only to folklore of sorts, but to the seventh spot among leading wicket-takers in the competition, with 31 wickets. This, despite having played only five matches so far. In the matches prior to the semifinal, he made his presence felt with a five-wicket haul (against Kerala) and a six-wicket haul (against Himachal).

Navdeep Saini, the 25-year- old medium pacer, has been a consistent wicket-taker for Delhi this season.   -  Prashant Nakwe

 

Navdeep Saini: The 25-year- old medium pacer has been a consistent wicket-taker for Delhi this season. His seven-wicket match haul against Bengal in the semifinal contributed to his team’s innings win. He had a big hand in Bengal’s dramatic collapse in the second innings (the team was bowled out for 86) – he took 4 for 35.

He was crucial in Delhi’s innings win over Maharashtra as well; Maharashtra was bowled out for 99 and 259, as Saini picked up six wickets in the contest. In a relatively tight contest against Uttar Pradesh in the group stages, Saini took seven wickets. After having conceded the first-innings lead, Delhi bowled its opponent out for 229, helped by Saini’s four-for. Delhi eventually chased the target of 252 down, for the loss of six wickets.