Kaif leads Uttar Pradesh to maiden Ranji Trophy title
Mohammad Kaif lead Uttar Pradesh to their first-ever Ranji Trophy final victory when the hosts beat Bengal on the basis of their first-innings lead. Bengal had fallen short by just 14 runs to UP's first innings total of 387. On the final day, chasing an improbable target of 357 in 43 overs, Bengal managed to get to 109 for 5, with Praveen Kumar, the UP medium pacer, taking all five wickets.
Kaif made the opposition pay for granting him two lives - once dropped when he was yet to open his account and then Deep Dasgupta, the Bengal captain, missed a stumping chance when his counterpart was on 43 - by reaching his first century of the season early today with some aggressive batting. In the morning Kaif and Suresh Raina started off rapidly and with that took the game away from Bengal.
Bengal of course contributed in no small measure to their own undoing. After Shib Paul and Ranadeb Bose had initially restricted UP in the first innings with some steamy opening spells, they let up on the pressure subsequently. Later, some of Bengal's fidgety batsmen were to gift away their wickets. A couple of questionable umpiring decisions didn't help either. Fielding was another crucial area where Dasgupta's men let themselves down - Kumar, Raina and Kaif were dropped early on in their first-innings knocks (Kumar went on to make a blistering 48, while Raina and Kaif got out in their 90s).
Raina, having played some good pull shots, fell trying to push the run-rate too hard, but Kaif continued confidently. A back-foot punch past cover boundary, and a pull over square leg off Paul brought Kaif to the cusp of century. He had to wait till the next over, however, to cross the landmark, which he did in resounding fashion with a cover drive off a fuller length Randib Bose-ball. But soon he mistimed a pull shot and holed out to midwicket. The remaining batsmen ensured that they wouldn't let the reins slip this time and by the time they were all out at the stroke of tea, a target of 358 was beyond Bengal.
In reply, having realised that it was a lost battle, Bengal's batsmen seemed to throw caution to the winds. Finally, at 109 for 5 and 10 more overs to go of the 43 that were mandatory, the game was called off triggering wild celebration on the ground and in the stadium.
UP, for some time, had been showing promise of entering the big league, but they lacked the pilot who could propel them further. But in Kaif, who would normally be on national duties each year for most of the first-class season, they found the right man at the right time. To get a team that had lost their first two games of the season, and had just four points from an equal number of games, back into contention and lead them to three outright victories and thus to the final was definitely a remarkable task.
Suresh Raina st Dasgupta b Singh 52 (231 for 3)
Goes forward, beaten in the flight, `keeper whips off the bails
Mohammad Kaif c sub b Bose 109 (250 for 4)
Mistimes a pull to midwicket
Rizwan Shamshad lbw b Lahiri 33 (315 for 5)
Goes back, offers no shot to one that straightens
Piyush Chawla c Das b Lahiri 0 (315 for 6)
Smashes a slog straight to long-off
Amir Khan lbw b Lahiri 28 (318 for 7)
Pushes forward and is trapped in front of middle
Gyanendra Pandey run out (Singh) 20 (321 for 8)
Late off the blocks and runs into his partner, caught short
Jyoti Prakash Yadav st Dasgupta b Singh 20 (342 for 9)
Goes for a big hit and easily stumped
Ashish Winston Zaidi c sub b Singh 0 (342 for 10)
Hits the ball straight to short leg
Saurashish Lahiri c Amir Khan b Kumar 3 (4 for 1)
Tries to pull, top edge to the `keeper
Abhishek Jhunjunwala c sub b AH Zaidi 0 (4 for 2)
Goes for a big hit, caught brilliantly by at mid-on
Rohan Gavaskar c Yadav b Kumar 5 (19 for 3)
Cuts a wide delivery straight to point
Laxmi Ratan Shukla retired hurt 6
Manoj Tiwary c Shamshad b Kumar 1 (39 for 4)
Pulls one straight to deep midwicket
Subhomoy Das c & b Kumar 32 (54 for 5)
Hits a slower ball right back to the bowler
Nagraj Gollapudi is Assistant Editor of Cricinfo Magazine.