A few stars emerge

Ranadeb Bose receives the Best Domestic Indian Cricketer of the Year award from Dilip Sardesai.-VIVEK BENDRE

One could be forgiven for not bothering to turn up at all. Yet, each year, stories of compelling courage emerge in the Indian domestic circuit. It could be just the grizzled pro, unwilling to let go of the only way he has known to live or something more heart-rending, writes S. Ram Mahesh.

India's domestic cricket is criticised with reason. The format is too unwieldy, there are far too many teams; the tracks, usually doctored, are often bereft of bounce, and this serves no higher purpose; the top stars are away; the audiences have dwindled to a few die-hards and the scorers; the selectors that make the effort to be present are spotted napping; it doesn't really matter that they are spotted napping, for their strings are held by others.

One could be forgiven for not bothering to turn up at all. Yet, each year, stories of compelling courage emerge. It could be just the grizzled pro, unwilling to let go of the only way he has known to live or something more heart-rending. Delhi's Virat Kohli, just 18, losing his father at 3 a.m. yet resuming on his overnight score of 40 for instance. Either way, there's enough to banish the cynic even if only for a few fleeting minutes. The season of 2006-07 had its stars. Bengal's Ranadeb Bose, flowing mane disciplined by a white headband, finished the season with 57 wickets from eight games. But, he did far more. He proved air speed isn't the absolute essential it's sometimes made out to be. Even on tracks that offer little by way of cut or bounce.

Manoj Tiwary and R. Ashwin (below) were among the award winners.-

Though a strapping 6 ft 4 in, Bose isn't someone First Class batsmen will lose sleep over. What Bose does do is stay disciplined: in over 10,500 deliveries sent down in First Class cricket, he has over-stepped not once. What he lacks in pace — Bose bowls at speeds between the mid-to-late 120 kmphs, occasionally straying into the early 130 kmphs — he makes up in accuracy. And he does just enough in the air and off the seam with the new ball to ask strict questions of a batsman's technique and judgment.

There's more than a passing resemblance to Jason Gillespie, at least in how he starts to run to the wicket, but Bose has succeeded primarily because he is his own man. He has understood his game, and the numbers bear it out: his First Class average of 24.25 and strike rate of 54.93 are very good in Indian conditions. It remains to be seen if Bose makes it to the Indian side — at nearly 28, he has it tougher than a teen sensation, but two points hold out hope. One, Dilip Vengsarkar, chairman of selectors, said Bose's non-inclusion in the World Cup probables was because it was one-day cricket, leaving the inference that he may be considered for Test cricket at some stage open. And two, in Australian Stuart Clark, Bose has something of an exemplar.

Bengal's middle-order batsman Manoj Tiwary is another that's getting rave reviews. Justifiably so. Already observers have detected in the 21-year-old, traces of Kevin Pietersen. That can be put down to our need to judge on reference, but Tiwary has shown promising signs. He finished the season with 796 runs, second only to Robin Uthappa's 854. This included a mature unbeaten 151 in the fourth innings against Karnataka that steered Bengal into the final.

V. GANESAN

The Ranji final was an advertisement of the benefits of having the international cricketers play domestic games: it amps the pressure and provides a standard that's the most accurate. And it was here that Tiwary stood out. Against a Mumbai attack that had Zaheer Khan, Ajit Agarkar, and Ramesh Powar, Tiwary counter-attacked in the first innings with a belief in self few possess.

He made a 43-ball 42 with eight fours, at least two of which were sublimely struck. In the second, with Bengal chasing 472 for an improbable victory, Tiwary showed again that he could do more than play the breezy cameo that titillates: he batted 171 balls for 94, and when he and Sourav Ganguly were at the crease, the target didn't seem as preposterous.

Mumbai's Rohit Sharma had his moments. A batting star at the under-19 level, Sharma proved he could mix it with the big boys. Mumbai looks after its own, and if Sharma fails to take the next step up it won't be for a lack of backing. Haryana's Joginder Sharma was another that impressed with his attitude. Haryana's coach Ashwani Kumar noted that Sharma had added pace to his bowling and responsibility to his batting. His performances were enough for a second call-up to the national side. With the World Cup team balance sorting itself out slowly, Sharma was jettisoned after one match, but it wasn't a random, callous act. He will know that he's being watched.

Tamil Nadu's R. Ashwin was one of two bright spots — the other being opener M. Vijay — in an otherwise wretched season for the proud cricketing State. Ashwin scalped 31 in just four matches, and comes at a time when the bottom of the spin reservoir has been scraped. He isn't quite the finished product yet, but he seems to possess a good mind for the game.

Delhi's Virat Kohli, just 18, put personal loss aside in the team's cause, during the tournament.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

The 2006-07 season was a time when Delhi bowler Ishant Sharma was successfully confused by the board with regard to his flight to South Africa, Irfan Pathan and Virender Sehwag attempted with varying degrees of success to rehabilitate their international careers, the little-known Absolom wrecked Punjab on a green-top, and Andhra's M. S. K. Prasad finished with 33 dismissals. Forgotten openers S. S. Das and S. Ramesh made runs in the Plate League as did J. Arunkumar and Yashpal Singh.

AWARD WINNERS (ALL DOMESTIC)

* Indian Cricketer of the Year 2006-07: Ranadeb Bose (Bengal) * Indian Batsman of the Year: Manoj Tiwary (Bengal) * Indian Bowler of the Year: R. Ashwin (Tamil Nadu) * Most Promising Youngster: Rohit Sharma (Mumbai) * Lifetime Achievement Award: Rajinder Goel (Haryana)