Railways' achievement is spectacular

THERE are two ways of looking at Railways' win in Ranji. The modern management experts would naturally explain it in modern bhaasha, view it as a triumph of group activity and cite it as an example of motivated individuals achieving team goals. Winning the National title, therefore, is a victory of strategic planning, it shows the power of cohesion and reinforces the age old wisdom about a team being greater than individuals.

If all this sounds a bit fuzzy, please don't blame me. Modern management is more than a bit baffling because it relies heavily on jargon, no wonder it is normally beyond the comprehension of ordinary mortals who play Ranji Trophy.

Which is why the Railways' win should be seen in another, more Indian, more simple perspective. The victory is in the Lagaan mould, it is a straight-forward tale of pure will, raw courage and sturdy determination. The boys wanted to do well, they slogged, they won. Simple. Their achievement is as spectacular and unexpected as unseeded Becker winning Wimbledon or a wild card Ivanisevic taking the title last year.

If few persons gave the Railways a realistic chance, there are ample reasons for this cynicism. For long the Railways were second class passengers (excuse this pun) in cricket's National championship. Cricket, in contemporary times, is about hype/ gloss/ stars/ personalities and the Railways suffer from an acute shortage of all these components. Instead, they chug along on their own steam, their players lack sparkle and don't attract media attention. Though Railways regularly qualified for the zonal league, and there was the odd standout performance, nobody made a splash.

Absence of star players was one reason for not hitting the headlines. In cricket's commercially dominated world, Railways were unfashionable, good players therefore stayed away, they did not want to get stuck in a Government department with low money and little opportunities. For the same reason, anyone who made good in the Railways through experience and exposure (Amre, for instance), quickly moved away in search of better prospects.

The true triumph of Railways is not just in beating Delhi/ Tamil Nadu/ Bengal/ Baroda comfortably, the team's success lies in overcoming drawbacks and converting weaknesses into strengths. Under coach Vinod Sharma they worked as hard as Bhuvan's team to become the best fielding side in the country. Vinod stressed the basics, kept instruction simple and threw no fancy words or complicated theories at his boys because he is himself unfamiliar with such methods. He can't work a laptop, can't download material from the internet and pass it on as his creation. But what matters is he connects with the team, gets to the point quickly and makes sure 11 guys play as one.

One major strength of the Railways is their well balanced, all round depth. This is most evident in bowling where the team has the resources to bowl on, and exploit, any surface. The new ball was in the hands of Harvinder (who bowled long, accurate spells), Zaqir, Bangar and J.P. Yadav; spin was equally formidable with a resurgent Kartik well supported by Parida, the off-spinner. Another major plus was batsmen bowled competently (Bangar and JP) and bowlers produced vital runs in the lower order (most notably, Kartik). Remarkably, the Railways were not stretched by any opposition, they crushed every side by big margins. In four knock-out matches they scored big and got others out cheap - and despite the batsman-friendly nature of the Karnail Singh Stadium track, only Gautam Gambhir made a first innings hundred against them.

For any team, winning Ranji is not just an honour, there are practical benefits to be derived as well. Players' performances are recognised more readily and already the door seems to be opening for Bangar who made such a huge impact and Kartik who is miles ahead of competition. Right through the season he bowled with aggression and guile, tossed the ball up, got it to turn and bounce disconcertingly. Unlike others who are happy to put the ball in the slot and wait for a mistake, Kartik likes to force the issue and extracts errors.

Amit Pagnis, at the top of the order, has a short fuse, he is uninhibited and fearless. If the ball is there to be hit, he hits it ; if it is not there, he still likes to give it a whack. Tejinder Pal, the number 3, is an exciting one-day prospect who bowls useful left-arm spin and is absolutely lightening in the field.

The Railways have much to rejoice but their celebrations are a bit dampened due to the continued neglect of Yere Goud. Like Bangar, Yere has been quietly performing for several seasons, scoring an awful amount of runs but recognition for top grade cricket eludes him for some reason. It is always easy to criticise selections but look at the side now in South Africa - there are many there who have less talent and less runs than Yere.

Watching the Ranji final, two other thoughts went through one's mind. One, as Chandu Borde said, concerned the declining interest in the National championship. In the past, such occasions were big affairs and players performed in front of large galleries. Now the final looks as though a formality is being grudgingly gone through, the match resembles a club game. Borde appeared impressed with some players on view but was disappointed the wicket wasn't challenging enough. "When the ball does not come on," he said, "it is not good for batsmen, bowlers or the spectators."

The other interesting issue was the status of Nayan Mongia. The wicket was slow and low but as happens on a crumbling track the odd ball jumped alarmingly. But even when this happened, Mongia kept skilfully, his gloves invariably reached the ball - there was no snatching, no fumble, he was always in position, perfectly balanced.

Mongia kept up to seamers and stumped Kartik after collecting the ball which was headed a long way down leg. Terrific work, but was anyone watching?