The unsung heroes

Arunkumar was in great form. The Assam skipper aggregated 569 runs at an average of 71 with two centuries and three half-centuries.-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

The Plate division matches do not figure in the schedule of the National selectors, who are busy watching the Elite group and following the `exploits' of the Indian team at the international level, writes Vijay Lokapally.

"Thanks a lot." That was the message from the Railways' dressing room to Jagadeesh Arunkumar, the Assam skipper, after his team took the first innings lead against Vidarbha. This enabled Railways to move into the semifinals of the Plate in the Ranji Trophy but not beyond, as the former champion came a cropper when it mattered most.

The Plate league of the Ranji Trophy produced intense cricket with quite a few veterans on the circuit excelling with consistency, which was lacking among the established stars in the much-talked of Elite league. The fact that it went to the last match of the league to identify the Plate semifinalists was an indication that the tournament was competitive right through.

Having created two leagues — the Elite and the Plate — and thereby separating the good from the average, the cricket administrators may pat themselves on the back for ensuring competition among the teams. "There is merit in the format," conceded former Test all-rounder Madan Lal. But ask the players who toil in the Plate division and crave for recognition.

A triple century by former Test opener Shiv Sunder Das went unnoticed in the national media. Orissa and Himachal Pradesh, returning to the Elite group, were pushed to the background. So was the decline of the former champion, Railways, which played miserably and continued to languish in the Plate division despite the presence of four internationals in its ranks.

"We have not seen a single National selector at any of the matches," bemoaned a player. He had a valid point. The Plate division matches do not figure in the schedule of the National selectors, who are busy watching the Elite group and following the `exploits' of the Indian team at the international level.

Arunkumar, the former Karnataka opener, distinguished himself with an aggregate of 569 runs at an average of 71 with two centuries and three half-centuries. It was a performance that propelled Assam into the semifinals against Orissa.

Assam, after its defeat in the semifinals, alleged that the home team had tampered with the pitch. But the damage had already been done, as Orissa, guided by Das and Debasish Mohanty, secured a place in the Elite group.

Sadagopan Ramesh was outstanding for Kerala with an aggregate of 554 at an average of 61.55 with three centuries and two half-centuries.

"I enjoyed the responsibility. The pressure of playing for a weak team worked well for me because I could concentrate more. I stuck to the job assigned to me," said Ramesh, who is playing in his second year with Kerala.

J. P. Yadav of Railways showed great fighting qualities.-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

Another unsung performer was Yashpal Singh of Services. Season after season, this gutsy cricketer from Indian Navy has served a weak team with distinction but failed to make an impression on the selectors. For some strange reasons, the selectors have not recognised Yashpal's talent. His aggregate this year was 562 at an astounding average of 112 with three centuries and two fifties.

"It is disappointing when you realise that your best efforts are not recognised but then I can only go out and make runs. I back myself to give my best in difficult conditions and I enjoy the pressure of carrying the team's batting on my shoulders. I have always believed that the best way to convince the selectors is by making runs. I have done my job again this year and look forward to being rewarded," said the modest Yashpal.

For Nikhil Haldipur and Abhijit Kale the move from their original states did not quite work well. Kale, shifting from Maharashtra to Tripura, had an aggregate of only 130 runs from seven innings, while Haldipur, a former Bengal player, compiled a disappointing 143 from eight innings for Goa.

Jai Prakash Yadav's sterling all-round show was the bright spot in Railways' otherwise shoddy show. True, Shreyas Khanolkar (370) and Tejinder Pal Singh (395) came up with noteworthy efforts and left-arm spinner Murali Kartik bagged 19 wickets, but it was Yadav who stood out with his fighting qualities.

A cricketer with tremendous self-belief, Yadav finished the Plate league with 31 wickets at an average of 14.41 apart from scoring 325 runs. "I worked hard to haul my team out of the Plate group but sadly our efforts were not collective. We are a good side but lacked consistency," said Yadav.

Railways suffered on account of poor batting with Sanjay Bangar and Amit Pagnis failing repeatedly. Though Bangar shone with the ball, claiming 23 wickets at 14 apiece, his batting was a letdown for a team that had lost veteran Yere Goud to Karnataka. Lack of motivation was clearly the main reason for Railways' miserable performance.

There were some noteworthy efforts from bowlers Vineet Jain and Sameer Khajuria. Jain, who served Haryana for almost a decade, gave a creditable display for Tripura. He played a major role in Tripura recording its first-ever Ranji win in 21 years last season when he rocked Himachal Pradesh. Jain's good work continued this season too as the 34-year-old medium-pacer finished with 28 wickets at 13 apiece.

Sadagopan Ramesh was outstanding for Kerala.-K. ANANTHAN

For Khajuria, the 29-year-old off-spinner from Jammu and Kashmir, the season's highlight was his sensational performance at the Keenan Stadium where he sliced through Jharkhand to carve a rare win for his team. He claimed four for 65 and seven for 39 as Jharkhand fell in a heap. It was easily one of the most memorable moments in Jammu and Kashmir's cricket chapter.

Among the major bowling failures were Harvinder Singh and Kulamani Parida of Railways.

The 35-year-old Vidarbha off-spinner, Pritam Gandhe, once an India prospect, continued his 20-year-old journey in domestic cricket with a haul of 11 wickets in three matches.

A notable bowler lying at the bottom of the list was the 28-year-old Kerala fast bowler Tinu Yohanan — he was wicketless in the 35 overs he bowled in two matches before a hamstring injury ended his season. The former Test cricketer had begun his international career with a wicket in the first over against England at Mohali in 2001.

How times have changed. Now, claiming even one wicket has become a challenge for Yohanan.