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March 9, 2002
If a team had to win the Ranji Trophy title for the first time, they would no doubt choose to do it by a comprehensive margin on home turf, in front of their staunchest supporters, and against a team that rudely deprived them of the title the year before. On Saturday, Railways satisfied every one of those criteria to lay their hands on India's premier domestic trophy for the first time in the team's history.
Setting their opponents a target of 391 almost guaranteed the hosts the title. Few teams today have the ability to survive two days on a crumbling track against quality spin, let alone chase massive totals with confidence and ease. The Karnail Singh Stadium pitch, as if doing its best to aid the local lads, co-operated by getting markedly slower and lower, aiding vicious turn as the final progressed.
Railways skipper Abhay Sharma may have been tempted to even open the bowling with Murali Kartik, but he tossed the ball first to his opening bowlers - Harvinder Singh and Zakir Hussain - and they repaid him in no small measure.
Harvinder Singh got rid of Nayan Mongia, promoted up the order, in his very first over. Four runs later, Zakir Hussain had Connor Williams caught behind, and Baroda were reeling at five for two.
Atul Bedade, coming in at number three, was to offer the only resistance from Baroda's side on the day. Zakir Hussain removed skipper Jacob Martin and Tushar Arothe as well, both batsmen departing for single-figure scores. Martin was trapped plumb in front by a well-directed delivery, while Arothe was caught behind with the score on 42, giving Abhay Sharma his third catch of the innings.
Bedade and Bhoite then managed to steady a violently rocking ship somewhat, adding exactly 50 runs for the fifth wicket. Railways, meanwhile, introduced spin into the attack, bringing on Kulamani Parida; Murali Kartik, inexplicably, was brought in only after Jai P Yadav bowled three overs of innocuous medium pace.
Parida broke the partnership by removing Bedade in the 25th over, the batsman having made 59 off 73 balls with 12 fours. Three balls later, Kartik, finally introduced into the attack, snapped up a return catch to dismiss Satyajit Parab for a duck. When, in the same over, Kartik had Yousuf Pathan caught in the deep, Baroda were starring down the barrel of the gun at 92 for seven.
After the fall of Bhoite for 12 off 44 balls, Valmik Buch attempted to delay the inevitable, hitting two fours in scoring 10 off six balls. But Buch fell to Kartik with the score on 106 and, 20 minutes after lunch, Rakesh Patel attempted a wild heave off Parida only to have his stumps knocked back. Railways had completed a 277-run victory, a comprehensive margin that reflected their complete domination of this final.
Last year, the Ranji final between these very two teams was dogged by controversy, Railways feeling done in by poor umpiring decisions. Baroda, this year, can only blame their batsmen for their debacle, although some serious criticism of a wickedly under-prepared track for a Ranji final would not be completely out of order.
Elation reigned on the ground as soon as the last wicket fell, supporters rushing to garland Abhay Sharma with currency garlands and falling to their knees to kiss the wicket. Jacob Martin, at the presentation ceremony, gave due credit to Railways for their splendid cricket in the final, while Abhay Sharma lifted the Trophy appearing suitably aware of the historical significance of the occasion.
What's wrong with their cricket? Well, what isn't?