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The victorious Tamil Nadu team.-PTI

Tamil Nadu had planned well and performed creditably to win the National one-day cricket tournament. Over to S. Sabanayakan.

Tamil Nadu’s victorious campaign in the National one-day tournament for the Vijay Hazare Trophy in Agartala was marked by ruthless efficiency, impeccable planning and a high level of motivation.

The side, captained by R. Ashwin and coached by W.V. Raman, was one of the four teams to arrive in this remote corner of Northeastern India for the opening matches on February 28 and was the last to leave the capital of Tripura with the trophy on March 10. The men in yellow flew in with quiet confidence and flew out with heads held high. And during their stay, they showcased the abundant talent present in Tamil Nadu cricket, and the system that helped the state to emerge numero uno in this format.

It was indeed a disappointing start to the South Zone champion’s campaign as its first match against East Zone runner-up Orissa could not be played owing to a wet outfield at the main venue, the Maharaja Bir Bikram Stadium. The match was awarded to TN owing to its better net run rate in the zonal event.

Yet, TN finished the tournament with a commanding display against Bengal. The East Zone champion, trying to make amends for its disappointing loss last year to Saurashtra in the final, had an embarrassing outing for the second year running.

An internal squabble erupted in the Bengal ranks on the eve of the semifinal against Baroda with two senior players getting involved in an eyeball to eyeball confrontation. Though it was settled amicably the next day, the incident would not have helped Bengal before the summit clash.

TN put up a strong batting display, reaching 284 for six with opener Abhinav Mukund stroking his first hundred, 118 off 140 balls with 12 fours and a six. There were useful contributions down the order, but the 18-ball, 41-run cameo by S. Suresh Kumar took one’s breath away.

Having scored 93 runs in the last 10 overs, the TN batsmen amply proved that there was nothing wrong with the pitch. Bengal needed a great start. Instead, it was 18 for two and could never recover to a position of strength. Manoj Tiwary’s superb 87-ball 76 kept Bengal in the hunt, but his departure signalled the end of the team.

Contrasting styles of play marked the entry of the two teams into the final. TN’s display against West Zone winner Mumbai in the quarterfinals and against Central Zone topper Uttar Pradesh in the semifinals was as authoritative as it was pleasing.

Batting allrounder S. Suresh Kumar lifted his side with a punishing 94 against UP and this enabled TN to win by 35 runs. Chasing TN’s fighting total of 197 — a score that looked unlikely when the side was reduced to 48 for five — the UP batting collapsed and the team was dismissed for 162.

In the quarterfinals opener S. Anirudha produced an entertaining 67 (88b, 6x4, 1x6) and a late order flourish by R. Ashwin 46 (37b, 1x4, 1x6) helped TN to post a very competitive 252 for nine. In reply, Mumbai folded up for 196 in 45.5 overs.

What stood out in these two victories was TN’s ability to perform consistently. Batting deep till No. 9, variety in bowling and outstanding fielding gave the team a clear edge over the other sides.

Ashwin gave credit to coach Raman. “Our strength is playing as a team,” the TN captain said after winning the tournament. “He (Raman) made us realise the advantage of playing collectively.”

That Bengal made it to the final for the second successive year was itself laudable. The team had many problems. An indifferent coach and an outspoken chief selector never got along well. This hit the very root of team spirit. Bengal’s march to the final was mainly due to individual efforts, especially those of Manoj Tiwary.

But for Tiwary’s brilliant unbeaten 96 against North Zone champion Delhi in the quarterfinals, Bengal would have been eliminated at that stage. Chasing Delhi’s 209 for eight in 47 overs, Bengal managed to reach 210 for eight with five balls to spare.

In the semifinals, Bengal comfortably beat West Zone runner-up Baroda by 81 runs. Bengal’s 227 in 49.5 overs was built on significant contributions from Shreevats Goswami (41), Tiwary (49) and captain Laxmi Ratan Shukla (49). The Baroda batsmen floundered on a slow and low track where the Bengal bowlers excelled to restrict the opposition to 146 in 44.5 overs.

The opening match between Central’s No. 2 team, Railways, and Delhi was perhaps the best of the 10-team tournament.

The game produced 614 runs, two centuries and a 222-run partnership for the second wicket. Delhi won the high scoring game and qualified to play Bengal in the quarterfinals.

In other quarterfinals, UP ousted North Zone runner-up Himachal Pradesh and Baroda made short work of the South Zone No. 2 team, Hyderabad.

Despite apprehensions about Agartala being the venue for such an important domestic engagement, many teams had nice things to say about their visit. The lack of experience of the organiser, the Tripura Cricket Association, was evident, but it made up for it with an enthusiastic approach.

Many team captains stressed the need to improve the pitch conditions, both the main and the practice pitches. The hotel accommodation was never criticised, but the lack of quality hotels was felt.

THE SCORES

Final – Tamil Nadu 284 for six in 50 overs (A. Mukund 118, S. Suresh Kumar 41 not out, A. Dinda three for 52) bt Bengal 218 in 45.2 overs (W. Saha 31, M. Tiwary 76, R. Sutheesh three for 55, R. Ashwin three for 24) by 66 runs.

Semifinals – Tamil Nadu 197 in 49.5 overs (S. Suresh Kumar 94, C. Ganapathy 27, R. P. Singh three for 29, B. Kumar three for 31) bt Uttar Pradesh 162 in 44.5 overs (Ravikant Shukla 56 not out, Md. Kaif 25, V. Yomahesh three for 26) by 35 runs.

Bengal 227 in 49.5 overs (S. Goswami 41, M. Tiwary 49, L. R. Shukla 49, R. Pawar three for 59) bt Baroda 146 in 40.2 overs (R. Pawar 43, L. R. Shukla three for 33) by 81 runs.

Quarterfinals – Hyderabad 167 in 49.3 overs (D. B. Ravi Teja 77, I. Zampawala four for 29, S. Singh three for 25) lost to Baroda 171 for three in 30.2 overs (S. Solanki 59, A. Bilakhia 50, R. Solanki 56 not out) by seven wickets.

UP 210 for eight in 50 overs (S. Shukla 40, R. Shukla 55, P. Chawla 56) beat HP 176 in 42.5 overs (B. Thakkar 60, A. Mannu 33, P. Chawla four for 41) by 34 runs.

Tamil Nadu 252 for nine in 50 overs (S. Anirudha 67, K. B. Arun Karthik 38, S. Vidyuth 33, R. Ashwin 46, I. Abdullah three for 43) bt Mumbai 196 in 45.5 overs (W. Jaffer 27, A. Nayar 36, A. Tare 25, A. Raut 33, S. Vidyuth three for 32) by 56 runs.

Delhi 209 for eight in 47 overs (A. Chopra 29, M. Sharma 43, P. Bisht 36 not out) lost to Bengal 210 for eight in 46.1 overs (W. Saha 30, M. Tiwary 96 not out, C. Nanda three for 44) by two wickets.

Pre-quarterfinals – Railways 305 for six in 50 overs (S. Bangar 56, V. Cheluvaraj 76, D. Salvi 48 not out) lost to Delhi 309 for eight in 48.3 overs (A. Chopra 107, V. Kohli 114, K. Sharma three for 57) by two wickets.

Tamil Nadu versus Orissa match not played owing to wet ground conditions. TN adjudged winner on better net run rate achieved in the zonal tournament.