Vijay Hazare Trophy: The hits and the misses

For a cricket-crazy nation like India, it is a ‘given’ that the people love the shorter formats. But sadly, very few people come to watch the Vijay Hazare Trophy matches. This year, barring a few matches, attendance has remained thin because of teams playing at neutral venues.

Players of the victorious Tamil Nadu team with the Vijay Hazare Trophy at the Kotla in New Delhi. This was Tamil Nadu’s fifth title in the competition.   -  R. V. Moorthy

If there is one title a cricketing nation wants to win, it is the World Cup. After all, the 50-over format is what decides the champion team in the game, and not Test cricket in spite of staying atop the pedestal as the “real cricket.”

For a cricket-crazy nation like India, it is a ‘given’ that the people love the shorter formats. But sadly, very few people come to watch these matches. This year, barring a few matches, attendance has remained thin because of teams playing at neutral venues.

With the India-Australia Test series in progress, the focus was far less on the Vijay Hazare Trophy. Though the three-member selection committee did its bit, with an eye on the Champions Trophy in June, it was unlikely that the runs scored and the wickets taken could help a

player make the National squad. But it proved good for those making the team for the ACC Emerging Cup (under-23) event, beginning March 27 in Bangladesh.

With the Indian Premier League round the corner, the regulars were keen to get into form in this competition. As the teams go, emerging as the best in the country in the 50-over format was motivation enough. In fact, almost every team was in full strength, barring those players on National duty.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni was a big hit during the tournament. To watch the former India captain play without having to pay for it was a rare opportunity for the Dhoni fans.   -  PTI

 

The league phase in four cities — Kolkata, Delhi, Chennai and Cuttack — saw seven teams at each of these venues battling for the quarterfinal spots from four groups.

For the record, Vidarbha, Baroda (from Group ‘A’), Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra (Group ‘B’), Bengal, Gujarat (Group ‘C’), Karnataka and Jharkhand (Group ‘D’) made it to the knockouts. Teams like Mumbai, Delhi, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh failed to progress past the seven-team league.

Of these, Delhi suffered a humiliating 185-run loss to a lesser-team like Himachal Pradesh; the team also lost to Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra.

Last year’s runner-up came up with a poor display in spite of having the services of Gautam Gambhir and Shikhar Dhawan under teenaged-captain Rishabh Pant, a sensation in the Ranji Trophy.

On the sidelines of Delhi’s premature exit, Gambhir once again courted controversy. With his captaincy taken away due to inconsistent form, Gambhir blasted Delhi’s coach and former cricketer K. P. Bhaskar in the team’s dressing room.

Gambhir’s growing frustration coupled with his notoriously suspect temperament led to an embarrassing situation for the younger members of the team. There was no doubt that the sympathies were firmly with the soft-spoken Bhaskar, who chose not to give it back to the

brash left-hander. Later, a three-member committee, headed by former Test cricketer Madan Lal, was formed to look into the matter.

Mumbai, desperate after two defeats and making a last-ditch effort to reach the quarterfinal — but in vain — skittled out Goa for 95 and chased it down in just 5.5 overs. Statistically, this was the eighth-highest victory ever, going by the number of deliveries left in a 50-over game. Mumbai won with 266 deliveries to spare, one less than the Indian record, established by Railways’ victory over Rajasthan in 2014-15.

Jharkhand owed its progress to the semifinals to skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni. His presence made a huge impact on the young team, boosting its morale. Leading from the front, Dhoni smashed a 107-ball 129 against Chhatisgarh that

lifted the team from 57 for six to 243. This was Dhoni’s first century for Jharkhand in limited-over competition and paved the way for a memorable 78-run triumph at the Eden Gardens.

Dhoni’s decision to play in the tournament also brought the crowds back. Whether in Kolkata, Delhi’s Air Force ground or the Feroze Shah Kotla ground, the Dhoni-lovers saw it as a rare

opportunity to watch him from the stands without having to pay for it. And the former India skipper lived up to the expectations, more often than not.

Bengal and Tamil Nadu advanced to the final in contrasting styles. If the Tamil Nadu bowlers played a bigger role in the team’s victories, Bengal’s top-order showed how to score more than what their bowlers conceded.

In the knockout phase, Bengal scored in excess of 300 runs against Maharashtra and Jharkhand to reach the final. Tamil Nadu’s job was made easier by the bowlers, who restricted defending champion Gujarat and Baroda to reach the title-clash.

Dinesh Karthik scored a century in the final against Bengal. The Tamil Nadu captain had a good tournament.   -  R. V. MOORTHY

 

In the final, Bengal’s bowlers raised the bar. Ashok Dinda got three top-order wickets and comeback-man Mohammad Shami claimed four to restrict Tamil Nadu to 217. Dinesh Karthik, who played a lone hand with a 112, ended with 607 runs, with two centuries and four half-centuries to top the run-getters list.

Now it was up to the Tamil Nadu bowlers to do the job one more time. And they gave the finishing touches and in the process pushed an ordinary batting display by their team-mates into the background.

Tamil Nadu restricted Bengal to 180 for a hard-earned 37-run victory. Medium-pacer Aswin Crist took his tally to 20 wickets and Ranil Shah accounted for 16.

This was Tamil Nadu’s fifth title in the competition.

Eventually, Karthik had every reason to be pleased with the campaign, both as captain and batsman. However, with Dhoni available for the country’s limited-overs engagements, Karthik’s runs do not help his cause of making a comeback

to the National team. Karthik and Parthiv Patel, the other consistent wicketkeeper-batsman — not to forget the left-hander’s comeback to Test cricket this season — have no choice but to continue to perform and hope for the best.

Young Bengal opener Abhimanyu Easwaran (472) played his part and walked into the team for the ACC Emerging Cup. Strange, as it may sound, Maharashtra’s Ruturaj Gaikwad (444) was likely to be forgotten. For Gaikwad’s team-mate Kedar Jadhav, his performance (375 runs) augurs well. However, for Jharkhand’s Saurabh Tiwary (368) and Baroda’s Krunal Pandya (366), these runs only serve as a confidence-booster for the IPL and are not relevant enough to stake a claim for a place in the Indian squad for the Champions Trophy.