One last drama, and a dream ended prematurely
Turn again, tiger
So you thought he was gone? There was one final farewell left. And it was all Sourav Ganguly. The following, the elaborate build-up, the preparation, and the final act more or less lived up to the hype. Ever since he agreed to represent Bengal in the Plate League semi-final, a match that could take them to the Super League, the Plate League was sure to get a facelift.
It started with the security arrangements. "We have our own security personnel at the stadium but since Ganguly will be playing, we have written to the local authorities to make adequate police arrangements," said Ashok Dewan, the former India hockey goalkeeper, who is in charge of the stadium.
Then came a foolproof plan. "I am sure the opposition will feel daunted by Sourav's presence. And, if he fails, Goa is likely to be lulled into complacency," Utpal Chatarjee, the Bengal coach, said. Neat.
Ganguly played his part in what he had announced was his last first-class match. From 127 for 5, he took Bengal to 257 for 6, and scored a determined 69. Bengal ended with 337, which should have been enough for a first-innings lead, but an obligatory final drama remained. Fog and bad light threatened to eat so much into the game that at one point even a first-innings result looked improbable. In that case, Bengal would have lost out because of a poor run-quotient. But they managed the wickets in time, are back in Super League, Ganguly will never play again, Ranji trophy is Ranji Trophy again.
And then there was more
Ganguly was not the only star attraction present at the Karnail Singh Stadium. With Bengal team, came Cricket Association of Bengal president Jagmohan Dalmiya. He had his share of spotlight too, but he said he was not getting into power battles with the BCCI now. "I have held all positions in my life, in ICC, ACC, BCCI and CAB," he said. "One must know where to stop. I just want to prove my innocence. I've faith in the judiciary, and I don't want to leave with a black spot." Different folks, different battles.
With Delhi working towards what could have been an incredible comeback, there was a fingerlickin' good prospect at hand. If they made it to quarters, they would have had the services of Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Ishant Sharma in the knockouts. And a certain Mumbai team would have got Sachin Tendulkar and Zaheer Khan back. And surely nobody could have prevented their clash at some point of time. But hey, hang on. Delhi first had to hope that Saurashtra did two points worse than what Delhi managed in their last league match.
And Saurashtra, full credit to them, played the perfect spoilsports. They went for a big gamble, laid out a track that assisted spin, won the toss, batted first, conceded a marginal lead against Hyderabad, and then came back to win the match outright on the third day. Which meant Delhi could, at best, get only one more point than Saurashtra. When they came to know of Saurashtra's victory on the third day, they were well placed to push for an innings win against Rajasthan. From thereon, though, they gave up, and went for some batting practice. So long Delhi, another champion team who have failed to make it to knockouts in their title defence.
Will they, will they not?
With Wasim Jaffer saying before their last league game, against Punjab, that Tendulkar and Zaheer would be available from quarter-finals onwards, there was anticipation all right, but confusion too. Confusion because the quarter-finals start on December 26, which would only a two days' gap for the duo after the Mohali Test. And why would Mumbai, group leaders, need them for a match against Himachal Pradesh? Perhaps because when Mumbai were desperate for full points last year, Himachal had thwarted their march, and that draw had proved crucial in Mumbai not making it to the semi-finals then.
Anyway the confusion has been sorted out, and according to a release from the Mumbai Cricket Association, Tendulkar and Zaheer won't play in the quarter-finals.
Shane Warne's boys' corner
What a season Ravindra Jadeja is having. Cheteshwar Pujara started off as the star player for Saurashtra, but Jadeja has turned in big performances at crucial junctures to see Saurashtra through to the quarters. And when they played their big gamble in their last league match, against Hyderabad, it looked like going horribly wrong in the first innings. Jadeja scored 0 in Saurashtra's 132. But he took 3 for 57 to keep the deficit down to seven runs, and then scored a crucial 31 to set Hyderabad 177. And then the star turn came: Jadeja opened the bowling, and took 7 for 31 to help Saurashtra win. With 30 wickets and 636 runs, he now No. 6 on the wicket-takers' list and No.7 on run-getters'. Some all-round effort this.
"It's good to play cricket again."
Sourav Ganguly, before going on to say he doesn't really miss the game