Thrillers, hat-tricks, and a jaggery-coated pitch
A round for knife-edges
Until yesterday Indian first-class cricket had recorded only four matches ending in victories of three runs or less. In a span of a few minutes, Jhalawar and Mysore produced two more. Barely had Mumbai sneaked to a dramatic two-run win against Rajasthan in Jhalawar than Saurashtra almost matched them with a three-run triumph in Mysore. Mumbai needed three wickets off the final over and Rajasthan, nine runs. Murtuza Hussain, a medium-pacer in just his second first-class game, prised out two wickets and saw a third fall to a run-out.
Karnataka, needing six runs in the last mandatory over, also committed hara-kiri. No. 11 KP Appanna did well to steal a single off the first ball, only to see Yere Goud, the captain, pick up another single instead of finishing it on his own. This brought Appanna back on strike and he had no answer to a well-directed short one that ballooned up in the air. For Indian first-class matches that have ended with margins of five runs or less, click here
Bouncing in Karnail
Domestic cricketers who have visited the Karnail Singh Stadium never tire of complaining about the lack of bounce. Jharkhand, the latest visitors, had a surprise in store. An interesting piece in the Indian Express talks about an old-school idea coming in handy: using jaggery to bind the pitch. Abhay Sharma, the Railways' coach, told the newspaper: "I recalled what I had seen in a Duleep Trophy match in Bikaner a long time ago. I remember playing that match and that wicket had a tennis-ball bounce. I had asked the groundsman, who was about 70 years old then, how he managed this and he told me to use jaggery, and its syrup is very good for making a stiff base.
"That's how I tried it here. But we have to be extra careful while using it on the top soil. A little overdose and insects will eat into the wicket." Curator Rakesh Mehrotra, who represented Uttar Pradesh in the Ranji Trophy in 1986 and has been involved in preparing tracks for the last five years, said: "We have also used a special glue so that the wicket doesn't break, and also sprayed lot of insecticide to prevent damage to the grass. That way, the grass doesn't die even when the roller is used and assists movement. Also, it's important to increase the clay content of the soil and also observe little methods to preserve it."
Tricks from Sony and Awana
Sony Cheruvathur became only the second bowler from Kerala, after Sreesanth, to grab a hat-trick. Snapping up the best match-figures in the Plate Group so far (12 for 105) Cheruvathur's hat-trick comprised Nos. 9, 10 and 11 - Amit Singh, Siddharth Trivedi and Hitesh Majumdar - to clean up the innings. Three days later Parvinder Awana matched him with a hat-trick to allow Delhi to force the issue against Maharashtra. Awana became the fourth Delhi bowler to take a Ranji hat-trick, after Ravinder Pal, Bishan Bedi and Shankar Saini.
For the smaller and far-off venues, a first-class match is a big occasion. It was no different for Nagothane, as at the end of the match they had a proper post-match conference organised, something that is not usual with Ranji Trophy matches. The spin here was that there were school kids questioning the captains at the presentation ceremony. Also Vijay Dahiya, mistaken for Virender Sehwag, was being asked for his autograph by one of the kids. While Dahiya had a hard time trying to convince the biy that Sehwag and he were two were different people, Aakash Chopra said, "No no it's him only," before dashing away.
Mumbai and the left-arm curse
Mumbai didn't have to face a left-arm seamer in this round but they've struggled against the breed this season. In the third and fourth rounds, Delhi's Pradeep Sangwan and Maharashtra's Samad Fallah accounted for 12 wickets, most of whom were top-order batsmen. Mumbai are obviously aware of this weakness, getting their trainer and left-armer Amogh Pandit to bowl at them, but a real test awaits them in the next round: Himachal Pradesh's Ashok Thakur, the highest wicket-taker in the Super League so far, on home turf. Interestingly (apart from Zaheer Khan) the last left-arm medium-fast bowler in the Mumbai ranks was Sandeep Dahad, who was in and out of the side in 2001 before moving to Goa.
Assam offspinner Arnald Konwar and Karnataka's medium-pacer R Vinay Kumar now have 100 wickets in first-class cricket. Meanwhile former Indian Sanjay Bangar, playing for Railways, picked up his 200th wicket in the game against Jharkhand in Delhi. Bangar became the fourth Indian to manage the double of 200 wickets and 6000 runs. He has a bit of catching up to do, though with ML Jaisimha (8942 runs, 325 wickets), Vijay Hazare (8504 runs, 311 wickets) and Madan Lal (8141 runs, 512 wickets) ahead of him.
Baroda beat Western India by 3 runs in Rajkot, 1942-43
Western India beat Gujarat by 3 runs in Rajkot, 1945-46
Andhra beat Tamil Nadu by 1 run in Salem, 1974-75
Haryana beat Mumbai by 2 runs in Bombay, 1990-91
Madhya Pradesh beat Karnataka by 5 runs in Bangalore, 1992-93
Tamil Nadu beat Sri Lanka by 3 runs in Madras, 1972-73 (Gopalan Trophy)