Saurashtra regained the Vijay Hazare Trophy after 15 years, while Maharashtra made it to its maiden final. Jammu & Kashmir qualified for the knockouts for the very first time, while defending champion Himachal Pradesh could not progress beyond the league stage.
Besides the usual ups and downs, the last three weeks saw numerous records being erased. Most centuries were scored in the tournament this season than in any other season. There were, expectedly, numerous instances of individual brilliance, too.
We pick the best six players from the tournament this season.
Ruturaj Gaikwad, Maharashtra
Matches: 5, Runs: 660, HS: 220*, 100s/50s: 4/0, Average: 220, Strike Rate: 113.59.
A wrist injury during the league stage meant that the Maharashtra captain was forced to skip five of his 10 games in the tournament. But he made the most of his opportunities.
He started with a century and ended with three consecutive three-figure scores in the knockout round. He started the Ahmedabad leg with an unbeaten 220 against Uttar Pradesh — including a record seven sixes in an over off left-arm spinner Shiva Singh — and followed it up with 168 against Assam in the semifinals. Had he not been run out for 108 in the final against Saurashtra, he could have become the first List A batter to notch up three successive 150-plus scores and led his team to its maiden Vijay Hazare Trophy title.
Battling early morning moisture that handed the advantage to fast bowlers early on, Gaikwad played patiently in each of the three knocks. His innings were a treat to watch, especially when he cut loose playing textbook cricket strokes.
Chirag Jani, Saurashtra
Matches: 10, Runs: 123, HS: 52*, 100s/50s: 0/1, Average: 30.75, Strike Rate: 92.48.
Wickets: 10, Average: 34.30, Economy Rate: 4.34, Best: 3/43.
Chirag Jani is not as celebrated as Saurashtra skipper Jaydev Unadkat, who yet again had a memorable tournament. Nor is he as decorated as Sheldon Jackson, his big brother from Bhavnagar. Moreover, he is 33 years old.
Jani didn’t make much of an impression during the league stage. During the knockout rounds, however, he underlined his value as the prime all-rounder of Saurashtra.
His match-winning effort of 50 (30b) and three wickets against Tamil Nadu in the quarterfinal set the stage for Saurashtra. The medium pacer then bowled a miserly spell against Karnataka in the semifinal, conceding just 19 runs in his 10 overs. He, then, backed it up in the final with a hat-trick at the death and a vital stand with Jackson to see his team through.
Anyone looking for a tried-and-tested medium pacer and big-hitter on December 23 (IPL auction)? Don’t look too far!
Vidwath Kaverappa, Karnataka
Matches: 8, Wickets: 17, Average: 13.17, Economy Rate: 3.53, Best: 4/40.
If one has to mention a young pacer who is making heads turn in the domestic circuit, it has to be this lanky bowler from Karnataka. Vidwath may not have been a star performer during his Ranji Trophy debut earlier this year, but he has been a star in the limited overs tournaments in the new season.
The right-arm pacer has shown that he has the pace that can trouble the best of the batters in the domestic arena. Add to that his ability to swing the ball late and it makes him a potent force.
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Perhaps a fat pay-check is on its way for the 23-year-old in the IPL auction. Irrespective of the hammer game, Karnataka will be hoping that the successor to its legacy of pacers has arrived.
N. Jagadeesan, Tamil Nadu
Matches: 8, Runs: 830, HS: 277, 100s/50s: 5/0, Average: 138.33, Strike Rate: 125.37.
How does one serve a stern reminder of one’s abilities when he is released by an IPL franchise? Ask N. Jagadeesan, the Tamil Nadu wicketkeeper-opener who created a spree of records. Albeit against a rookie side, his 277 is the highest-ever individual score in List A cricket. Moreover, his five centuries on the trot underlined his ability to outdo the best.
Jagadeesan may have faltered at the big stage, perishing early in the quarterfinal against Saurashtra, but he has shown that he has it in him to succeed against the best. With many wicketkeeper-batters in fray in the auction pool, will his run-feast transform into a bidding war? Watch this space.
Riyan Parag, Assam
Matches: 9, Runs: 552, HS: 174, 100s/50s: 3/1, Average: 69, Strike Rate: 123.21.
Wickets: 10, Average: 36.80, Economy Rate: 5.57, Best: 2/6.
Riyan Parag is a leading contender to be nominated for the ‘most unfairly trolled zillennial on social media’ award, should there be any! Riyan served a polite reminder of just why he is valued so much by his IPL franchise and his State team by coming into his element in the Vijay Hazare Trophy.
Riyan stood out with his performances right through Assam’s campaign. His consistency with the willow — his 174 against Jammu & Kashmir in a run-chase of 351 in the quarterfinal was the highlight — came to the fore. So, too, did his effectiveness with the ball: he mesmerised opponents with variations with the ball, including off-breaks, leg-spin, and carrom balls.
Vivrant Sharma, Jammu & Kashmir
Matches: 8, Runs: 395, HS: 154*, 100s/50s: 1/2, Average: 56.43, Strike Rate: 94.72.
Wickets: 5, Average: 44.20, Economy Rate: 6.25, Best: 4/22.
Shubham Khajuria was the highest run-getter and the right-and left-arm pace combination of Aaqib Nabi and Yudhvir Singh, respectively, picked a bagful of wickets to help Jammu & Kashmir qualify for the knockouts for the very first time.
But along with them, there was another player from J&K who stood out. Left-handed opener Vivrant Sharma, who left a mark on the league stage in Mumbai, showcased his big-hitting prowess against pacers and spinners alike, even against fearsome Kuldeep Sen. The youngsters also showed he has a cool head, adapting to the situation and rotating strike when necessary.
Add to that his handy leg-spin bowling and it makes him a handy proposition. Don’t be surprised if you keep hearing his name on December 23 and beyond!