Sweet revenge for Railways

RITESH GUPTA

RAILWAYS was finally rewarded for its perseverance. After toiling for years, Railways had its moment of glory when it won the Ranji Trophy, getting past defending champion Baroda, on its home ground at the Karnail Singh Stadium, Delhi. This achievement was a tribute to the camaraderie and solidarity of the players, who had laboured for this win with a sustained effort in the last six months.

V. SUDERSHAN

Considering that the players come from different parts of the country, manage with very shoddy accommodation and practice in a multi-purpose ground, Railways' feat was indeed praiseworthy.

There was hardly any support for Railways when it initiated its campaign against Rajasthan this season. But on that afternoon, when there was spotlight on the players through live telecast, there were more than a handful of officials to cheer the side as Railways got closer to victory on the fourth day.

At last, there was some consolation for one of the most underrated sides in the domestic circuit, when it was presented with Rs. 2,00,000 by the Railways Sports Promotion Board. Railways proved a worthy winner as it was never challenged in the knock-out stage, in which it played all the matches at the Karnail Singh Stadium in Delhi.

Railways won the final by 277 runs. Since it had finished runner-up to the same opponent, Baroda, last year, Railways' revenge was a telling one.

"It's a special feeling. The players got together in September last year and worked harder this season. We are happy we have won on our home ground," said Vinod Sharma, the Railways coach. It was a special moment for Sharma as he was the coach-cum-player when Railways lost in the final in 1987-88. As a coach last year, he again saw his side losing narrowly to Baroda.

Railways captain Abhay Sharma, a constant source of motivation to the team, said, "You don't need big names to win big games. You just need to cope with pressure and perform when it matters. We were ready this time and I am happy we did it finally."

Railways remained focussed after it was bowled out for 253 on the opening day. The mood in the dressing room was tense but it all eased once Railways was brought back into contention by Murali Kartik. If it was Zaheer Khan, who did it for Baroda last year, then Railways was guided by Kartik this time. Though Railways missed its all-rounder Sanjay Bangar, who was rewarded for his consistency this season with a place in the National side, Kartik came up with a memorable effort.

He finished with an eight-wicket match haul apart from making a crucial 69 in the Railways second innings, which set Baroda a daunting task in the fourth innings of the contest. Railways managed 306 in its second innings as Kartik and Harvinder Singh (34 not out) added 77 runs for the last wicket to frustrate Baroda.

Harvinder, who contributed handsomely with his incisive spells all through the campaign, was emotional when he remarked, "It is great to be part of a winning team. We got breakthroughs at the right time and I think it was a reward our team deserved the most. We had toiled to realise this dream."

After Railways frittered away the advantage of batting first on a good pitch, it was Kartik, who was instrumental in giving his side a huge psychological advantage as he picked up five wickets.

Baroda, which had scored big totals on its way to the final, caved in meekly. If Baroda could only bat for 330 minutes in the first innings, the second innings, in which it was chasing a victory target of 391, lasted only for 165 minutes. The match was over 15 minutes after lunch on the fourth day with Baroda scoring 169 and 113 in its two innings.

On a pitch on which there was no reason to panic, Baroda paid heavily for playing reckless strokes. To his credit, Kartik stuck to his task and lured the rival batsmen into false strokes. The left-arm spinner was also complemented by medium-pacers Harvinder, J. P. Yadav and Zakir Hussain.

Throughout the knock-out phase, Harvinder had provided early breakthroughs. But in the final, he found an able ally in Zakir, whose three-wicket burst on the fourth day dashed Baroda's hopes.

It was not the best of batting performances from both sides on a pitch which proved nightmarish for the bowlers at times. First it was Railways which threw away the advantage of winning the toss. Only J. P. Yadav (84) and Shreyas Khanolkar (44) came up with useful contributions. The other consistent performers - opener Amit Pagnis, Yere Goud and Tejinder Pal Singh - all got decent starts but failed to contribute much in both innings. In the absence of Zaheer Khan, who had bowled very well in the previous matches for Baroda, the new ball pair of Rakesh Patel and Shekhar Joshi rose to the occasion. But all the hard work by Patel and Joshi proved futile as Baroda came up with one of their worst performances with the bat in recent times.

"We did not have any partnership in the second innings. Railways bowled and fielded very well. They played better than us and deserved to win," said a disappointed Jacob Martin, the Baroda skipper.

With in-form batsmen Connor Williams and Jacob Martin, and the experienced Nayan Mongia and Atul Bedade in its line-up, Baroda was expected to challenge Railways. But it collapsed from 80 for no loss in the first innings. Opener Satyajit Parab executed some fine drives in his knock of 53, but that was the only bright spot in his side's innings. Once Kartik was introduced, Railways staged a comeback and steadily took control of the proceedings.

After gaining an 84-run lead, Railways strengthened its position by crossing the 300-figure mark in its second innings. Though the middle order collapsed, Kartik and Harvinder prolonged the innings with their gritty displays. Apart from Raja Ali (66), who exhibited some fine drives, especially off the backfoot, the other Railways batsmen failed to capitalise on decent starts.

Still, the target set by Railways was more than substantial. Baroda lost eight wickets in the first session on the fourth day, with Zakir chipping in with three in the first hour, as Railways avenged its last year's loss in style. Barring Atul Bedade, who scored a half-century, none of the Baroda batsmen could stay for long.

Railways' fielding, too, was sharp throughout. As the fielders supported their bowlers, Railways managed to sustain the pressure.

The joyous scenes at the Karnail Singh Stadium aptly summed up the camaradarie among the Railways players. The beats of the drums reverberated well into the evening. And deservingly too.

The scores:

Railways - 1st innings: J. P. Yadav c Jacob Martin b Buch 84, Amit Pagnis lbw b Bhoite 35, Tejinder Pal Singh c Nayan Mongia b Buch 18, Yere Goud b Patel 21, Raja Ali b Patel 0, Abhay Sharma c Satyajit Parab b Joshi 9, Sheryas Khanolkar lbw b Joshi 44, Murali Kartik c Mongia b Bhoite 2, Kulamani Parida c and b Bhoite 5, Zakir Hussain lbw b Patel 23, Harvinder Singh (not out) 4, Extras (b-5, lb-2, nb-1) 8, Total 253.

Fall of wickets: 1-21, 2-82, 3-146, 4-148, 5-170, 6-184, 7-190, 8-195, 9-249.

Baroda bowling: Rakesh Patel 23.4-6-67-3; Shekhar Joshi 9-0-50-2; Ajit Bhoite 20-5-52-3; Valmik Buch 20-6-53-2; Yusuf Pathan 10-1-24-0.

Baroda - 1st innings: Connor Williams b Kartik 24, Satyajit Parab c Khanolkar b Kartik 53, Nayan Mongia c Khanolkar b Kartik 32, Jacob Martin b Harvinder 12, Tushar Arothe c Abhay Sharma b Kartik 2, Atul Bedade b Kartik 2, Ajit Bhoite c Khanolkar b Harvinder 17, Yusuf Pathan c Parida b J. P. Yadav 7, Rakesh Patel (not out) 8, Valmik Buch c J. P. Yadav b Harvinder 0, Shekhar Joshi c and b J. P. Yadav 1; Extras (b-3, nb-8) 11, Total 169.

Fall of wickets: 1-80, 2-87, 3-112, 4-124, 5-128, 6-138, 7-160, 8-160, 9-164.

Railways bowling: Harvinder Singh 15-4-35-3; Zakir Hussain 7-0-39-0; Murali Kartik 22-6-51-5; J. P. Yadav 28-13-31-2; Kulamani Parida 2-0-10-0.

Railways - 2nd innings: J. P. Yadav lbw b Joshi 4, Amit Pagnis c Nayan Mongia b Patel 39, Tejinder Pal Singh (run out) 27, Yere Goud c Patel b Buch 24, Raja Ali c Williams b Arothe 66, Abhay Sharma c Jacob Martin b Joshi 9, Shreyas Khanolkar lbw b Joshi 4, Murali Kartik st. Mongia b Bedade 69, Zakir Hussain b Arothe 3, Kulamani Parida c Bedade b Arothe 1, Harvinder Singh (not out) 34. Extras (b-14, lb-3, nb-6, w-3) 26. Total 306.

Fall of wickets: 1-13, 2-66, 3-99, 4-155, 5-183, 6-187, 7-203, 8-223, 9-229.

Baroda bowling: Rakesh Patel 31-11-66-1; Shekhar Joshi 23-5-64-3; Ajit Bhoite 17-4-48-0; Valmik Buch 19-6-44-1; Yusuf Pathan 2-0-12-0; Tushar Arothe 19-0-49-3; Atul Bedade 5.4-3-6-1.

Baroda - 2nd innings: Connor Williams c Abhay Sharma b Zakir 1, Nayan Mongia c Abhay b Harvinder 0, Atul Bedade c Raja Ali b Parida 59, Jacob Martin lbw b Zakir 8, Tushar Arothe c Abhay b Zakir 1, Ajit Bhoite c Khanolkar b Parida 12, Satyajit Parab c and b Kartik 0, Yusuf Pathan c Zakir b Kartik 0, Rakesh Patel b Parida 6, Valmik Buch c Harvinder b Kartik 10, Shekhar Joshi (not out) 2, Extras (b-5, lb-6, nb-3) 14, Total 113.

Fall of wickets: 1-1, 2-5, 3-38, 4-42, 5-92, 6-92, 7-92, 8-95, 9-106.

Railways bowling: Harvinder Singh 9-3-23-1; Zakir Hussain 9-1-39-3; Kulamani Parida 9.3-3-30-3; J. P. Yadav 3-1-3-0; Murali Kartik 6-4-7-3.