Ranji Trophy: Prolific Jadeja, Assam's gritty run

Ravindra Jadeja's 38 wickets in four matches, and Assam's dream run to qualify for the knockouts at the expense of traditionally stronger teams like Karnataka and Delhi, were the highlights of an intriguing season of Ranji Trophy.

Jalaj Saxena had a fruitful season for Madhya Pradesh with bat and ball.   -  Sandeep Saxena

At the beginning of the season, few would have expected unsung Vidarbha off-spinner Akshay Wakhare to finish joint highest wicket-taker of the Ranji Trophy league phase with 49 scalps. He shared his spot at the acme with Kerala left-arm spinner K. Monish. Yet, a look at the numbers reveals much about the type of pitches Vidarbha duelled it out on. The side played on turners with Faiz Fazal emerging the side’s top-scorer with a middling 514 runs at 42.83.

With four victories and 29 points, Vidarbha edged out Bengal to finish first in Group 'A’. Although the serious spat between Gautam Gambhir and Manoj Tiwary reflected the ugly side of the competition, Bengal had their moments under the sun. The left-handed Sudip Chatterjee, with 712 runs at 54.76, impressed with innings building skills. And the 20-year-old Abhimanyu Easwaran’s 390 runs in five matches, at 55.71, reflected his potential.

Bengal benefited from left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha, who moved to the State from Hyderabad at the beginning of this season. Bowling with a re-modelled action, Ojha was at the heart of the Bengal attack with 33 scalps in eight matches at 19.66.

Krishna Das significant for Assam

Assam snatched the third quarter-final spot from this group with a stunning individual performance at the forefront of their campaign. Paceman Krishna Das sliced through line-ups to claim 44 wickets at 13.47. Having survived a gruesome road accident some seasons ago, Das' comeback was a tale of courage. He was the sword arm of Assam bowling.

In batting, Assam was well served by K.B. Arun Karthick, who made 723 runs at 55.61. To their credit, Assam finished ahead of the more fancied Karnataka and Delhi. For Delhi, left-arm spinning all-rounder Manan Sharma displayed glimpses of ability with 35 wickets (at 26.51) and some handy runs.

By outplaying last year’s runner-up Tamil Nadu on a spinner-friendly surface at Dindigul, Punjab clinched the second spot, behind the dominant Mumbai, in Group 'B.’ The left-handed Uday Kaul made 611 runs in eight games at 50.91 to become the leading batsman for the side. Although he wasn’t always available, off-spinning all-rounder Gurkeerat made an impression with his strokeful batting and much improved bowling. Leg-spinner Sarabjit Ladda chipped in with 25 wickets at 25.25.

Jalaj Saxena prolific with bat and ball

Madhya Pradesh took the last qualification spot in the group, ahead of Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Traditionally, Madhya Pradesh have been a feisty side. This time around the under-rated Jalaj Saxena emerged the most potent all-rounder of the league stage. He notched up 530 runs in eight matches at 44.16. Saxena also took a whopping 46 wickets at 20.30 with his off-spin delivered in an easy, clean manner.

Tamil Nadu, who lost to Karnataka in the summit clash last season, were let down by their batsmen in crunch games. Batting collapses were all too frequent and the side actually lost outright to Mumbai after grabbing a 140-run first innings lead.

Rain harmed the cause of Abhinav Mukund-led side and Tamil Nadu's decision to prepare pitches that offered considerable turn also eventually back-fired. Left-arm spinners Rahil Shah and D.T. Chandrasekar, and off-spinner Malolan Rangarajan, were among wickets. Pace bowling all-rounder J. Kousik has possibilities but Tamil Nadu, as a team, were found wanting in temperament.

All-rounder Ravindra Jadeja’s 38 wickets in just four matches at a sensational 10.55 — on vicious turners — propelled Saurashtra to the top spot in Group 'C'. Sheldon Jackson was the leading run-getter with 356 grafted runs on demanding pitches at 35.60.

Jharkhand nailed the second and last qualifying slot in the pool. The left-handed Sourabh Tiwary’s 677 runs at 67.70 and left-arm spinner Shahbaz Nadeem’s 45 wickets at 17.15 were weighty performances for the side.

The team had punched above its weight.

Concluded