UP's surge, mystery teams and the Ganguly factor
A Mohammad Kaif-inspired Uttar Pradesh won their first Ranji Trophy title while Railways, the defending champions, were relegated to the Plate Group. There were plenty of finds, a dash of politics, and some defining moments from a former Indian captain in perhaps his most serious domestic season. At the end of the 2005-06 domestic season, we look back at what stood out.
Fairytale of the season
Charged by young talent inspired under the leadership of Mohammad Kaif, Uttar Pradesh - rank outsiders - fought their way back from a poor start to their Ranji Trophy campaign and eventually won their maiden title. Kaif was the decisive factor in UP's surge to - and eventual clinching of - their maiden title.With youngsters like Suresh Raina and Praveen Kumar stepping it up in style, UP surged to a fantastic victory and capped a memorable season.
Star of the season
Suresh Raina , all of 19, topped the run tally for UP and was a key figure in his side's rise to the top. Stood out in UP's dismal start to the season with innings of 75 and 51, and failed to pass fifty on only one occasion throughout their run to the final - where he hit twin fifties. Stroked a fine 97 against India B in the Challenger Trophy, and starred in a few Indian ODI victories as well.
Most improved team
With an inspiring captain, a former captain who refused to give up, and a good showing by their youngsters, Bengal bounced back from a miserable season, in which they were almost relegated, to make the Ranji finals. Through individual and collective performances Bengal showed the grit to outbat heavyweights such as Baroda and make the finals. The successful duo of Saurasish Lahiri, the talented young offspinner, and Shib Shankar Paul, the right-arm fast bowler, were instrumental in Bengal's rise.
Double-take at Dharamshala
Drama unfolded at Dharamshala as a Plate Group match between Himachal Pradesh and Tripura in early December was called off after officials of two groups, claiming to be actual representatives of the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association, traded charges minutes before the match. The second team was banned from entering the ground, the match was called of after a political wrangle - with the Supreme Court intervening - and more than six weeks later, in Panjim, a Himachal side trumped Goa by six wickets.
Disappointment of the season
Railways, last season's Ranji champions, won just one match out of seven and finished at the bottom of the Elite Group points table. They were relegated to the Plate Group.
Most promising youngster
Piyush Chawla, the 17-year-old UP legspinner, made an immediate impact in his first season. Starting with the dismissal of Sachin Tendulkar with a googly during the Challenger Series and ending with a five-wicket haul in the Ranji final, Chawla was a talent to watch out for. The crowning glory for a good domestic season: a Test cap against Engand at Mohali.
Flop addition of the season
The BCCI's invitation towards the Zimbabwe President's XI to take part in the Duleep Trophy. Two losses - by an innings and seven runs to North Zone, and an innings and 17 runs to East - highlighted the dismal standard of cricket being ushered onto the Indian domestic scene.
Rearguard act of the season
Sachin Rana's brilliant, maiden first-class hundred from the No.9 spot, pulled Haryana out of a deep hole in a classic rearguard action against Baroda in a third-round Ranji match. Precariously placed at 159 for 9, Rana hit a valiant 121 from 142 balls and then, to show that his prime task was to open the bowling, proceeded to send down a wicket-maiden before stumps were called on the first day. He top-scored with 99 in the second innings as Haryana claimed a draw.
Slamming it to the selectors
Dropped from the Indian one-day side and faced with absurdly challenging circumstances, Sourav Ganguly struck a glorious 117 in a do-or-die-situation for East Zone in a Duleep Trophy match against North Zone at Rajkot. Ousted as Indian captain, Ganguly batted for four hours - and picked up four wickets in the match - to set up a nine-wicket win for East. Everybody seemed to know the complete truth about his elbow injury, never mind that the doctors themselves regard such a condition impossible to pronounce on with certainty, but Ganguly's defiance stood out in the dust of Rajkot.
A Kotla cracker
Gujarat's lower order dug its heels in and snatched a thrilling two-wicket victory over Delhi on the final day of their Ranji Trophy Elite Group match at the Feroz Shah Kotla, despite a second successive five-wicket haul from Amit Bhandari, Delhi's captain and opening bowler. Three wickets in the space of 10 balls completely changed the complexion of the match as Delhi staged a magnificent last-ditch effort, but Hemal Watekar, who remained unbeaten on an invaluable 21 from 116 deliveries, cracked a four to seal Gujarat's win.
Tamil Nadu captain Hemang Badani's failure to inform the umpires of his return to the field during their Ranji one-day tournament against Railways earned his side a five-run penalty. For good measure, two run-outs in successive deliveries in the last over proved costly as Railways sneaked home by one run.
Upset of the season
The revenge of the ex-players. Maharashtra defeated a strong Mumbai side at the Wankhede Stadium to go into the semi-finals. Munaf Patel and Sairaj Bahutule - who moved from Mumbai to Maharashtra - scored vital runs and shared 13 wickets between themselves to consign their former team to a 65-run defeat.
No love lost
Amid unruly scenes, Hyderabad took two points in its first Elite Group match against Andhra Pradesh. Ambati Rayadu, who switched from Hyderabad to Andhra at the start of the season, was walking off after being dismissed when Arjun Yadav, the opposing captain, let fly a volley of abuses and ungentlemanly gestures before uprooting a stump and trying to hit him. The timely intervention by the umpires pacified the players but the fisticuffs were enough for the match to be called off.
Hard work in vain
Zaheer Khan topped the wickets list in the Duleep Trophy, with 23 from three matches, and dismissed Ganguly for a pair in the final but could not find a place in the national side for back-to-back home series against Sri Lanka and South Africa.
Hanging up the boots
Narendra Hirwani, the former India legspinner, retired from first-class cricket after 23 long years in the game. Hirwani said he plans to set up an academy in Indore exclusively for grooming legspinners, adding that he has urged the MP government to provide assistance.
Jamie Alter is editorial assistant of Cricinfo