It six others, Tamil Nadu has always been one

It was on the fourth day of Mumbai’s final match in
the group stage. The only thing standing between the team and a spot in the
knockout stage was Tripura. Although not a lot of people would have considered Tripura
to be an intimidating opponent, one team’s future in the series laid in the
hands of an innocuous Tripura team.

The 83rd edition of The Ranji Trophy
brought along with it augmented competition and aggrandized expectations as the
series is gaining precedence during the time of selections into the National
Team, all 28 teams and 506 players looking to scythe the competition and earn a
spot amongst the Men in Blue. Complying with the Board of Control for Cricket
in India (BCCI), the 28 teams were split into four groups, as opposed to three
from the last edition, with seven teams in each group. The top two teams from
each group qualified to the Knockout stage.

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Sorted into Group C with six others, Tamil Nadu has
always been one of the most sagacious teams to play the series. This year was
not presumed to be any different, yet had an unexpected denouement. Standing in
fifth position with a total of 11 points, last year’s semifinalists barely eked
through the series, drawing five matches and losing their last one in Round 7
against Baroda, which completely blocked their entry into the Knockout stage. Tamil
Nadu stalwarts from around the country have expressed their disappointment with
Abhinav Mukund and his boys through various social media platforms like Twitter
and Instagram. Sriram Madhavan, a cricket enthusiast tweeted, “It’s been a
horror show from the #TamilNadu Ranji team this year. Yet again concede a first
innings lead. Out of the competition. #RanjiTrophy2017” on November 27th
2017, the day on which Tamil Nadu were shellaced by Baroda. This tweet is not a
single person’s emotion but a collective representation of every Tamil Nadu
supporter.

Questions like “Why Tamil Nadu was unable to win
even a single match?” and “What made the other teams better than Tamil Nadu
this season?” have consistently been raised by fans and analysts alike. The Times
of India published an analysis on what went wrong for Tamil Nadu this season,
citing the first innings collapse against Andhra and Odisha, and the relentless
rains that lashed out during the match against Tripura; as the two most
prominent reasons for Tamil Nadu’s failure to convincingly win a single match. Shayan
Acharya, a sports journalist and a cricket aficionado, when asked what could be
the reason for Tamil Nadu’s failure to win even a single match said, “I think this time
Tamil Nadu did have a lot of potential, but what they didn’t do was make use of
it fully. Even with experts like Ravichandran Ashwin and Murali Vijay in the
side, the team as well as the players failed to get a break and capitalize on
their strengths. If you ask the team where they went wrong, they would blame
the fact that they were robbed of home advantage because they had to play more
matches outside due to the weather in Chennai. Additionally, the team failed to
show steel in comparison to last season when they showed grit and
determination.”

 

Playing their first match against Andhra in their
home turf during early October, the home team won the toss and elected to bat,
collapsing for 176 runs, contributions coming only from Baba Aparajith. After Andhra
ended their first innings at 309 all out, aided by Ravichandran Ashwin’s 4/71
and K Vignesh’s 3/73, Tamil Nadu began their second innings with more panache.
With help from Captain Abhinav Mukund, Murali Vijay and Baba Aparajith, the
team declared their second innings at 350/6, giving themselves a chance at
defending their total, but Andhra managed to prolong their innings till the end
of Day 4, finishing with 198/7 with Ashwin and Vignesh picking up two and three
wickets respectively.  With respect to
the team’s performance against Andhra, Shayan said “Tamil Nadu perhaps
underestimated the opposition, not expecting Andhra to score above them, and
were probably caught off-guard.”

The second match against Tripura was hoped to be
Tamil Nadu’s first win, but the rain gods were persistent leading the second
test to also end in a draw. Winning the toss and putting the opposition to bat,
Tamil Nadu bowled out Tripura for 258 with K Vignesh leading the bowling
attack. Holding a lead of 99 runs at the end of Day 3, rains washed away Tamil
Nadu’s hopes of posting a gigantic total, with the hosts declaring at 357/4.
Washington Sundar’s century, Abhinav Mukund and Baba Aparajith’s half centuries
propelled the team to reach the target. Tripura’s second innings stood at 91/3
at the end of Day 4 with only 34 overs being bowled due to rains and bad light.
“Against Tripura, rain definitely played a major role. If not for the persistent
rains, Tamil Nadu would have had a clear shot at their first win. Ironically,
the match was shifted to Chennai from Agartala because of bad weather
conditions in Tripura, but the weather conditions in Chennai did not help the
home team either!”, said Shayan who was present during both matches.

The third round of matches took Tamil Nadu to
Mumbai, pitting them against one of the most resilient teams in the history of
The Ranji Trophy. Losing the toss, Tamil Nadu were put to bowl first where
Vijay Shankar picked up four wickets for 52 runs, and Mumbai ending their first
innings at 374. Adding 76 runs to the home team’s total, the visitors were
bowled out for 450, with centuries from Baba Indrajith and Yo Mahesh. Already
three days gone for just the first innings, this match was predicted to end in
a draw considering both teams posting big totals. Mumbai declared their innings
at 371/6, alas they were too late!

The fifth round saw the departure of spinner
Ravichandran Ashwin, who had to get back to the National Team for the bilateral
series against Sri Lanka. With the absence of the extolled spinner, Tamil Nadu
had bigger hurdles to cross if they wanted to win a match in the series. Taking
on Odisha in their home conditions, Tamil Nadu won the toss and elected to bat
posting a mammoth score of 530 aided by centuries from Murali Vijay, Baba
Aparajith and Vijay Shankar. Odisha retaliated with 533, gaining a 3-run lead
at the end of the final day, ensuring that neither of the teams win.

One positive takeaway for Tamil Nadu from these two
matches would be all-rounder Vijay Shankar’s ability to wrest any opportunity
that he gets, and turning it into a match-winning effort. Especially in the
absence of Ashwin, who is the team’s most relied on all-rounder, Vijay Shankar
proved his ability to play the role of all-rounder which earned him a position
in the Indian Cricket Team as Bhuvaneshwar Kumar’s replacement in the India-Sri
Lanka series.

The egress of opening batsman Murali Vijay left a
sizeable hole in Tamil Nadu’s top order, which was a concern for Abhinav Mukund
going into the next round against Madhya Pradesh. But opener N Jagadeesan used
this opportunity to score a century, finishing the first innings at 326 all out
in response to Madhya Pradesh’s 264 all out. The inadequacy in the bowling
department helped Madhya Pradesh declare their second innings at 351-4, again
Vignesh being the only seamer to pick wickets. Day 4 ended with Tamil Nadu at
79-1.

A trend that was noticed in all of Tamil Nadu’s
matches this season was the lack of consistency of pace bowlers with the
exception of K Vignesh who is the highest wicket taker for Tamil Nadu this
season with 24 wickets. 20 year-old Samruddh Bhat, a U-23 Tamil Nadu player
said, “The bowling attack was depleted this season. Aswin crist and Natrajan
who did well last year were both injured for the whole season. So all the onus
was on K Vignesh. The spinners also struggled to take wickets.

Batsmen twins Baba Aparajith and Baba Indrajith were
the leading run-scorers for Tamil Nadu this season, who received accolades for
being the most consistent batsmen for the team. Samruddh, who played under Baba
Aparajith in Tamil Nadu Premier League (TNPL), said on account of his
consistent performance, “It was important for the team that he scored some
runs. He put in a lot of work for this year’s season, and it has paid off!”

Draws in the last five matches made it impossible
for Tamil Nadu to qualify to the Knockout stage. The only thing standing
between the team and a spot in the Knockout stage was Mumbai who were playing
their last match against Tripura. Tamil Nadu had pinned all their hopes on benign
Tripura, who lost to Mumbai and broke Tamil Nadu’s desire to seal a berth in
the Knockout stage. There was just one thing that they could do to salvage the
situation and exit the tournament with conviction. A victory in the last match
against Baroda would have added six points to their total and allowed them to
leave the tournament on a positive note. But unfortunately, the team’s streak
with draws was broken by Baroda who won the match by 102 runs, that too in the
former’s home turf!

Although it is difficult to pinpoint what the reason
was for Tamil Nadu’s failure to win a single match from the plethora of reasons,
it is safe to say that the team has a lot to mull over and bounce back in the
next season!