The pick of the lot

Here are the list of batsmen and bowlers who revelled in the Ranji Trophy this season.

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

Here are the list of batsmen and bowlers who revelled in the Ranji Trophy this season.

Batsmen:

Gautam Gambhir (Delhi, 833 runs): The flamboyant left-handed opener had a wonderful season. He took off from where he left last season, slamming a double century against Railways. The opponents suffered from his punishing blade as Gambhir set his sights on the India cap. A compulsive stroke-maker, he improved dramatically under the guidance of Bishan Singh Bedi, who drilled the importance of guarding one's wicket. For a young man, Gambhir's anxiety to hit every ball is understandable because he has been essentially brought up playing limited overs cricket in the Capital. But he did well to work on his defence and as the season grew, so did his reputation as a batsman.

Hrishikesh Kanitkar (Maharashtra, 734 runs): Discarded by the National selectors, this exciting batsman from Pune made the most of his form this season. Consistency was his hallmark and this was evident during his visits to the crease, when Kanitkar experimented with his shots. Known to possess every shot in the book, he showed his mettle as a reliable batsman, who could carry the innings on his shoulders. He has the ability to play the seaming and rising ball well. His excellent attitude enables him to develop his game as the situation demands. An asset to his team, no doubt.

Ambati Rayudu (Hyderabad, 698 runs): Immensely gifted, this stylish strokeplayer lives up to the Hyderabadi tradition of producing quality batsmen. He may not be in the same mould of M. L. Jaisimha, Mohammed Azharuddin and V. V. S. Laxman, but Rayudu, ready to break into the Indian team this season, promises to go far with his exceptional talent with the bat. According to some of the seniors in the circuit, Rayudu shows the same promise that distinguished Sachin Tendulkar exhibited during his up and coming days. Some of his knocks this season may have established this affable Hyderabadi as the most exciting young cricketer in the country.

Abhijit Kale (Maharashtra, 683 runs): Hard work pays and nothing signifies it more than Kale's progress over the last five years. A dogged batsman, who believes in making the bowler earn his wicket, he has remained the backbone of his team for a long time. The recognition may have come late for this gentle Maharashtrian, but there was never any doubt that Kale had it in him to make it big. A classy century against the Englishmen at Jaipur a couple of years ago was just a glimpse of his potential as he made a big impression on the selectors. A batsman who belongs to the old school of playing the ball on merit, Kale deserved the break that came his way in the shape of a place in the Indian team for the tri-series in Dhaka recently.

Mithun Manhas (Delhi, 674 runs): His journey from Jammu and Kashmir to Delhi was essentially to explore the possibility of playing in the big league. He was a modest cricketer to begin with when he came to Delhi, but soon made an impression with his stylish batsmanship. A very positive cricketer, plays to his limitation and has been an asset for the Delhi team because of his positive approach to the game. One of the few batsmen who can play the hook and pull, Manhas has been denied opportunities at the higher grade despite possessing the talent to shine.

Wasim Jaffer (Mumbai, 666 runs): The tall and elegant opener may have batted his way back into the reckoning after being axed from the Indian team. His good showing in the West Indies, when he drove the bowlers on the rise, did not win him a permanent place in the side even though he had batted to the instructions of team management. His strokeplay has won him praise from many former players and as an opener he has the right temperament to assume the role. More importantly, as this season has proved, Jaffer can do better if given a chance on a consistent basis without putting him under pressure to perform every time he takes guard.

Yashpal Singh (Services, 659 runs): A middle-order batsman with a lot of promise, he found a place in the Services team after being ill-treated by the Delhi selectors. After just one failure in the under-19 cricket, Yashpal lost the confidence of Delhi team-management and switched over to Services, thanks to coach Tarak Sinha. In just two seasons, he has two double centuries to his credit and has the capability of playing in the big league. Stroke-making is his strong quality. He possesses good defence, which is so essential to survive in any grade of cricket. Yashpal is a very good picker of the ball and hits it hard too, a rare quality in Indian cricket.

S. Sriram (Tamil Nadu, 641 runs): A dynamite at the crease, Sriram has won a place for himself in Tamil Nadu cricket with his aggressive batting. A compulsive strokeplayer, he ought to have been given a decent run by the National selectors since he has put the team's interests ahead of his own. A consistent run-getter for Tamil Nadu, Sriram failed to excel when needed most in the semifinal and the final. A very competitive cricketer, he has played some outstanding knocks in the circuit and is regarded by bowlers as a batsman who can smash any attack on his day.

Daniel Manohar (Hyderabad, 633 runs): A talented left-handed opener who has not really lived up to the early promise that placed him among those who were worth watching. An easy-going attitude has only harmed his chances of figuring in the higher grade of cricket. A brilliant strokeplayer, he has not learnt the value of his wicket and often gets out to innocuous balls. His weakness against the moving ball has often been exploited by canny medium-pacers, but Manohar stands out for his ability to dominate when he wants to. He has served Hyderabad well as a deceptive first-change bowler. Is a fine fielder too but ironically his dropped catches cost Hyderabad a place in the Ranji final a few seasons ago.

Amay Khurasiya (Madhya Pradesh, 630 runs): A dashing left-hander who was not treated well by some of his mates and the selectors too. A thrilling batsman to watch, Khurasiya is dreaded by bowlers because of his quality to play every shot. He has a distinct ability to hit even the good balls and that is what makes him such a treat to watch. On a placid track, he can be the most dangerous batsman in the country. One cannot forget his century in a Duleep Trophy match a decade ago when he smashed Kapil Dev and Manoj Prabhakar as if it was a Deodhar Trophy contest. Khurasiya has been the strength on which his team has made some fine progress in the championship.

Best bowlers

L. Balaji (Tamil Nadu, 47 wickets): A gentle fast bowler, Balaji is ranked among the best in the land today. His spell against Delhi should be the high point of his success this season, particularly the ball with which he breached the defence of Virender Sehwag. A lanky bowler with an open chested action, he has improved significantly in the last two seasons, having worked well on his speed and skills. For Balaji, this was a good season and he deserves a break as India looks for a replacement for Javagal Srinath, who incidentally has high opinion for this Tamil Nadu bowler.

Sunil Joshi (Karnataka, 47 wickets): Once described as the all-rounder India had been looking for, Joshi's career did not lost long in the Indian team. Despite his wonderful bowling skills and proven batting abilities, this Karnataka cricketer has failed to win the nod of the selectors mainly because of skipper Sourav Ganguly lacks faith in the left-arm spinners. Joshi is rated high by Bishan Singh Bedi and his performance this season was good enough for him to stage a comeback. He bowled well throughout and deserved a pat for playing such a big role in Karnataka's progress from the Plate group to the Elite.

Narendra Hirwani (Madhya Pradesh, 45 wickets): A model for youngsters to follow. This genial leg-spinner has won many friends with his jolly nature, even though batsmen have often come to grief when facing this crafty leg-spinner who just refuses to give up. Hirwani enjoys challenge and especially likes to compete with youngsters. For years, he has embellished the circuit with his presence and this season has seen `Hiru' at his best as he went about plotting the dismissals with flippers and googlies. He may not find a place in the Indian team but he remains a great source of motivation for youngsters, more because he likes to share his experience.

Amit Bhandari (Delhi, 45 wickets): A seamer who was shunned after just one match on the placid tracks of Dhaka. A hammering at the hands of the in-form Pakistanis left Bhandari shattered even as Ganguly made no effort to guide the youngster. Bhandari learnt the lessons the hard way and did not lose his composure at any stage. He has bowled consistently well in the last two seasons and excelled even on docile tracks with his ability to experiment. Accuracy has been his forte for this seamer who cherishes hopes of making an impact in the higher grade if given an opportunity.

Sairaj Bahutule (Mumbai, 40 wickets): When coach Chandrakant Pandit praises Bahutule, you have to take notice. Pandit was a good player of spin and his judgement obviously carries weight. With the batsmen struggling all the way, it was natural for Pandit to rely on his bowlers to deliver and here Bahutule rose to the occasion with his accuracy. He maintained pressure at one end and it enabled his partners to strike at crucial moments. His batting abilities also helped the team in difficult situation even as Pandit lauded his crafty bowling. Bahutule was a valuable performer in Mumbai's title win this season.

K. N. Ananthapadmanabhan (Kerala, 32 wickets): Surely, one of the unfortunate cricketers not to have earned an India cap. A veteran on the circuit, his devotion to Kerala cricket has been unmatched. Season after season, this leg-spinner has bowled his heart out for a team which has done well to quality for the Elite group, thanks mainly to Ananthapadmanabhan's consistency. A bowler who believes in the tradition of plotting the batsman's dismissal, he stood out this season for the big wickets he took to steer Kerala past many obstacles. As a senior, he has remained a role model for cricketers in Kerala even though recognition at the higher level has eluded him for no fault of his.

Faisal Shaikh (Goa, 35 wickets): A product of Mumbai cricket, he shone for Goa in a season which placed him among the best. He may not be a big turner of the ball but he made a big impression as an off-spinner with his best coming against Services when he took nine for 29. Lack of opportunities compelled him to shift to Goa after Mumbai ignored him. A listless debut for Mumbai in 1997-98 left Shaikh frustrated but his decision to shift to Goa brought him instant recognition.

Rahul Kanwat (Rajasthan, 33 wickets): An effective offpsinner from Rajasthan and a reasonably decent batsman, with all-round ability. His outgoing ball is a strong weapon. The 27-year-old cricketer from Jaipur is a hard-hitting batsman. He is known to change the course of the match with a breezy knock and is a steady bowler. Has been a consistent performer for quite some time and stands out for his attitude to battle it out regardless of the situation.

Amit Mishra (Haryana, 32 wickets): A product of a government school in Delhi, he had always shown promise as a leg-spinner. His cousin, former Railways leg-spinner Vijay Bahadur, played the leading part in helping him rise as a bowler. For two seasons, Mishra failed to find a place even in the list of 50 trainees in Delhi. It was Bahadur who advised him to move to Haryana and in two seasons Mishra earned a place in the Indian side. A good turner of the ball, Mishra needs to develop his googly but is rated high by batsmen in the circuit for his ability to strike a nagging line and length.

Pritam Gandhe (Vidarbha, 32 wickets): A very effective off-spinner, very experienced and can contribute with the bat. Again, the drifter is a productive wicket-taking ball for Gandhe. He has served Vidarbha for more than a decade.

Once in line for a place in the Indian team, he lost out to Rajesh Chauhan. Consistent during the big matches, Gandhe has played a big role in helping Vidarbha rise as a fighting unit in the zone.