When the back-benchers came forward!

The season belonged to Saurashtra and Assam even though they ended up without the coveted Ranji Trophy. Saurashtra were relegated to Group C, but they realised that it could be a blessing in disguise to reach the final stages of the tournament. That Assam managed to make it to the semi-final with limited resources is commendable.

Saurashtra players during a practice session.   -  Prashant Nakwe

The 2015-16 Ranji Trophy season ran contrary to script with both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, the finalists of the previous edition, not progressing to the second stage. The heartening fact was that the least fancied sides like Assam and Saurashtra made a big impact.

Apart from TN and Karnataka, the other side that flattered to deceive was Punjab. Punjab had the services of Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan for most part of the season but they faltered against Assam rather unexpectedly. As far as Karnataka were concerned, they never hit the straps and it was a very ordinary campaign for a well-oiled side. Tamil Nadu was left to rue their defeat against Mumbai from a well-placed situation, which not only derailed them, but gave Mumbai the impetus early on in the season.

Mumbai, on their part, went about their job this season in a calm and collective fashion. There was some turbulence reportedly within the dressing room in the last couple of seasons, but the MCA was quick to make the required rectifications. Chandrakant Pandit was brought back to take charge. His no-nonsense approach and his reluctance to be over-accommodative brought in the calm as also the collective effort in achieving the objective.

It takes quite a lot of factors for a side to win a Ranji title, but most importantly, the ability to keep the emotional quotient intact is the key. This is where Pandit is relentless in not allowing players to take things for granted. In the end, his methods have succeeded regardless of the disapproval of some players at times.

But the season belonged to Saurashtra and Assam even though they ended up without the coveted trophy. Saurashtra were relegated to Group C, but they realised that it could be a blessing in disguise to reach the final stages of the tournament. Contrary to popular belief, a relegated side have the advantage of being too good for the others apart from giving themselves a healthy chance of cultivating a winning habit. Then, of course, complacency is something that can deter a relegated side, but the culture of Saurashtra has been their sense of reality. They know their strengths and weaknesses and therefore, they achieve more than they are given credit for. No doubt, they played on turners to achieve results in a few games, but that is what cricketing strategy is all about. Though they failed at the final hurdle, the Jaydev Shah-led side will be proud of their campaign.

The other side that exceeded expectations was Assam, though totally devoid of star value in their ranks. That they managed to make it to the semi-final with limited resources is commendable. This is perhaps the motivation Assam required and hopefully, this season’s progress will inspire them to become more consistent in the future.

On the whole, it was an interesting season in more ways than one, but it does not augur well to see sides not putting up enough runs on the board in the second stage as a result of getting too influenced by a tinge of grass. The anxiety of a different environment at the top level is understandable, but players turning out for the top eight teams getting overawed by conditions in neutral venues is definitely a cause for concern. I am sure that the very idea of playing at neutral venues will be debated during the annual coaches/captains conclave in depth. The one positive outcome of playing at neutral venues is that players aspiring to play at a higher level will develop an indifference to conditions, which is critical at the international level.