Looks like Holkar Stadium is quite a happy hunting ground for the first-timers. The iconic venue, which has witnessed some of the major moments of Indian cricket, saw a young Vidarbha side clinch the coveted Ranji Trophy title for the first-time, defeating seven-time champion Delhi by nine wickets on Monday.
At the same venue last year, Gujarat had clinched its first-ever Ranji Trophy title, beating heavyweight Mumbai.
Though Delhi tail-enders helped the team edge past Vidarbha’s first innings total of 547, the 29-run target they set for the opponents was too easy to achieve for a buoyant Vidarbha side.
Though skipper Faiz Fazal was dismissed by Kulwant Khejroliya for two, the experienced pair of Wasim Jaffer and Sanjay Ramaswamy, sailed the side through. The job was done in just 4.5 overs, with Jaffer and Ramaswamy remaining unbeaten on 13 and 9 respectively.
But then, while the scoreboard would state that Vidarbha defeated Delhi by 9 wickets to create history, what it won’t convey is the fact that it looked like an evenly poised game even till the afternoon. Things, however, tilted in favour of Vidarbha’ right before the Tea as Delhi lost two quick wickets of Dhruv Shorey and Nitish Rana — who looked settled after taking charge just before lunch.
While Shorey — who had slammed a century in the first innings — was caught behind the stumps by Akshay Wadkar off Aditya Sarwate for 62. This, after stitching a 114-run partnership with Rana for the third wicket. Once the pair was broken, Rana too fell a little later, caught by Wadkar off Rajneesh Gurbani for 64.
That was where the script changed completely.
While Delhi slowly lost the grip, Vidarbha could smell victory. When the tournament got underway, none had thought Vidarbha would reach the final, but the young guns, under the leadership of Faiz Fazal, proved critics wrong in the last three months, scaling one peak after the other. Despite facing the bigwigs, the side — a mix of youth and experience (with Fazal, Wasim Jaffer and Ganesh Satish around) — has displayed fearless brand of cricket throughout the tournament.
And the players ensured that there was no changing plans in the final either.
Resuming the day on 528-7, Vidarbha lost its last three wickets for just 19 runs, for a first-innings lead of 252 runs. Centurion Wadkar, who stayed at the crease for 425 minutes, was dismissed by Khejroliya for 133, and that helped Delhi furrow the tail. While Navdeep Saini registered yet another five-wicket haul, Khejroliya found himself in an embarrassing situation. After dismissing Siddhesh Neral earlier in the day, the umpires discovered that Khejroliya had actually bowled a no-ball. This was the third such instance in the innings where the same bowler suffered a similar fate, twice with the same batsman.
Coming out to bat in the second innings, Delhi required a steady partnership to get going. But that was not meant to be. Kunal Chandela was the first one to walk back to the pavilion for 9 after being caught at mid-off by Gurbani, off an Akshay Wakhare delivery. If the first innings belonged to Gurbani — who also scalped a couple in the second — Wakhare was the wrecker-in-chief, scalping four wickets. Sarwate also supported the duo, grabbing three wickets.
Having lost his opening partner early, Gautam Gambhir tried steadying the ship. But in a rather unfortunate decision, Gambhir’s innings was cut short by Gurbani for 36. While the on-field umpire, Anil Dandekar, was convinced that it was a leg-before wicket, television replays showed that the ball was missing the leg stump.
As a disappointed Gambhir walked back to the dressing room, it also indicated that Delhi’s hopes were dashed. From 50-2, even though Rana and Shorey tried scripting a turnaround , often taking advantage of a shoddy fielding show by Vidarbha, they failed to accomplish the mission.
After their departure, the young middle-order flattered to deceive. While hopes were pinned on young captain Rishabh Pant, his poor outing with the bat continued, as Aditya Wankhade caught him at gully off Neral for 32.
Matters worsened as Himmat Singh fell for a duck. Manan Sharma, who suffered a knee injury on Saturday and was out of action for the last couple of days, could only manage eight runs before being cleaned up by Wakhare.
Much before taking the field for the final, Vidarbha skipper, Fazal, had admitted that his focus has already shifted to the Irani Cup. That remark, made to Sportstar , had drawn criticism from a section of the fraternity, which felt that the Vidarbha skipper was being over-confident.
But silencing the critics, Fazal can now set his sights on the Irani Cup. For Vidarbha, it was a joyful start to the new year.
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