Railways losing steam?

JESURAJ rocked Bengal with an inspired spell. He is a bowler to watch out for.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

Railways, last year's winners, performed so miserably that they tumbled out of Elite to Plate.

As another season of Ranji draws to a close, the cruelty of cricket and its harsh nature is again highlighted. Within few months, and few matches, fortunes change, equations are altered and power positions shifted radically.

Consider, for instance, the plight of Railways, last year's winners who performed so miserably they tumbled out of Elite to Plate. This season they won the Irani Trophy. Greg Chappell lauded their team spirit and players — mostly of modest abilities — were profusely praised for working together to produce magic.

So what caused this derailment? Why should a team ranked number one last year, end up 14 in a group of 15? It is difficult to announce a clear verdict but there were tactical glitches, mistakes in approaching games, errors in planning. The team chose to play on substandard tracks, a tactic that backfired because batsmen failed to cope, each low score built further pressure and, in the end, they never put a decent score on the board.

SANJAY BANGAR had a forgettable season, T. P. Singh withered, the middle order was inconsistent. J. P. Yadav did his bit (he smashed a stunning 130 against Tamil Nadu and bowled with spirit) but this was not good enough. The Railways have a lot of introspection to do apart from hard work before they make a comeback.

Equally interesting is the case of many senior players on the circuit, specially left-handers who were in the frame for the Indian team not long ago. Opener Ramesh shifted to Kerala in Plate, made two hundreds with his new team, Badani scored a big hundred against Bengal, narrowly missed another century against Delhi. Dinesh Mongia started slowly but his hunger for big scores returned after the initial rounds and he made three hundreds.

AMONG THE RIGHT-HANDERS , not much was heard of S. S. Dass, so highly rated not very long ago. Akash Chopra struggled the entire season, his bad form made worse by a spate of dodgy decisions handed out by the umpires. Amol Majumdar had a good run for Mumbai, Mithun Minhas once again delivered less than what he is capable of. Veteran Jadeja, captaining Rajasthan, was consistent, so was Jacob Martin for Baroda, Himachal's Rajiv Nayyar returned to first class cricket after a long break, Gujarat's Mukund Parmar called it a day after serving his state for 19 years.

Sachin Rana, Suresh Raina, Chipli made a mark but Venugopala Rao and Dheeraj Jadhav (500 runs with two centuries), both part of the Indian team only four months ago, have slipped a bit in the pecking order.

And speaking of failed promise, what happened to Ambati Rayudu? And Laxmi Ratan Shukla, an all rounder who hardly got to bowl for Bengal.

Unfortunately, senior spinners Hirwani, Sarandeep, Rahul Sanghvi dropped out of contention, unable anymore to meet the demands of competitive cricket.

Leg-spinners Piyush Chawla and Chetanya Anand grabbed attention but consensus is they need to sharpen their skills and rise gradually up the ladder. Swapnil Singh, a 14-year something left-arm spinner made his debut for Baroda.

Zaheer Khan came roaring back, Ashish Nehra was absent injured, Balaji could not overcome a back strain. Bengal's S. S. Paul took loads of wickets, Amit Bhandari was not much of a force except when he grabbed 11 against Gujarat, V. R. V. Singh was laid low by an injury and missed out. UP's Ashish Zaidi carries on, in 18 years of Ranji he has close to 400 wickets which is simply astonishing.

AMONG YOUNG QUICKS , Punjab's Gagandeep and Haryana's Joginder Sharma created a favourable impression, Gujarat's Siddharth Trivedi destroyed Delhi on a green top, teammate Makda chipped in with wickets and also distinguished himself by scoring a 50 at number eleven.

Tamil Nadu's Jesuraj rocked Bengal with an inspired spell, he is a bowler to watch out for.

Maharashtra defeated Mumbai, the victory was not without a touch of irony because former Mumbai players Sairaj Bahutule and Munaf Patel plotted their downfall.

During the season Mumbai exported its cricket wealth, when Baroda took on Bengal in the semi-finals, both teams had Mumbai coaches in command. Balwinder Sandhu (with Baroda) is an old hand, a crafty customer who regularly updates his knowledge. Mhambrey (with Bengal), a keen student (unlike Sourav, according to the opinion of Manager Raj Singh Dungarpur!) who keeps abreast with modern developments.

JUST LIKE MUMBAI , Baroda too extended their rich cricket tradition by throwing up another wicket- keeping talent in Pinal Shah. He follows in the large footsteps of Kiran More and Nayan Mongia.

And finally, like previous years, there was off-field drama as well. During the Andhra-Hyderabad game an argument took place between the Hyderabad captain Arjun Yadav and his former colleague Amabti Rayudu, now representing Andhra.

Following a verbal exchange things took an ugly turn, a stump was uprooted and physical violence threatened.

But, thankfully, before the situtaion could degenerate, better sense prevailed, peace was restored — and stumps drawn — in a manner of speaking.