The matches that defined the league stage
Gujarat 355 (Parthiv 162, Rajan 7-77) and 301 for 6 dec. (Parthiv Patel 80, Smit Patel 60, Niraj Patel 59) drew with Madhya Pradesh 250 (Ojha 71, Mehul Patel 4-37) and 258 for 7 (Ojha 64, Saxena 52 not out, Dhurv 4-45)
First round of the tournament, and what a draw. Batting first, Gujarat took a lead of 105, and possibly batted on for a little too long to save their three points when they declared only after their lead had crossed 400. Having said that, their bowlers reduced Madhya Pradesh to 179 for 6 in 62.4 overs with well over a session to go in Indore. Enter Jalaj Saxena and Anand Rajan. The offspinning allrounder and the quick. Nos 8 and 9. They batted together for 24.3 overs to deny Gujarat. While Saxena scored a fifty, Rajan batted for 96 minutes and 64 balls for just nine runs. MP found a new opener from the match, and Gujarat went away three points short, three points that could have made a vital difference to their progression in the end.
Baroda 324 (Wakaskar 100, Waghmode 77, Rayudu 54, Mishra 5-97, Mohit 4-86) and 133 for 9 (Mohit 5-50) beat Haryana 295 (Dalal 104, Utkarsh Patel 5-83) and 160 by one wicket
This was only the 14th one-wicket win in the entire history of Ranji Trophy. In cold Lahli, with hardly anyone watching, Haryana and Baroda matched each other blow for blow on a helpful surface. There was a hundred and a five-wicket haul in each of the first innings. Then a collapse each in the second, until Baroda fell to 48 for 6 and 108 for 9 in the chase of 133. It was so important and intense that one of the nine wickets was a mankading.
However, Baroda's Nos 10 and 11 - Utkarsh Patel, who had taken five wickets in the first innings, and Bhargav Bhatt - took their side through with 25 added for the last wicket in 3.5 overs. Players on both the side said this was the closest first-class match they had played. Baroda's coach, Sanath Kumar, called it "an amazing but harrowing day". How important was it? Baroda sneaked through by two points in the end, and they were at the disadvantage of not playing in the last round.
Mumbai 304 (Pawar 111*, Pandey 6-54) and 250 for 5 decl. (Jaffer 67, Nayar 62*) beat Madhya Pradesh 244 (Choudhary 76, Harpreet 50) and 303 (Saxena 128, Zaheer 5-79, Nayar 3-56) by seven runs
Only nine Ranji matches have been won by five runs or fewer. This was decided by seven runs. MP could have easily played safe as they were placed comfortably as the penultimate round of the league stage began, but despite the presence of Zaheer Khan in the opposition they produced a sporting track. Moreover, when Mumbai lost the will to win outright and looked content with three first-innings points, MP kept attacking.
Chasing 311 in 78 overs on the last day, MP went after it with such gusto that they became the most popular side of the year. However, they were up against a side that might not be known for attractive cricket but is renowned for ruthlessness and knowing how to win. Zaheer Khan, his fitness dodgy, brought Mumbai back with a 13-over unbroken spell. The best that could have achieved was a draw for Mumbai, but MP still kept going for the win. Now appeared the quintessential Mumbai player, Abhishek Nayar, with three wickets and a run-out. MP's No. 11 and arguably the best bowler of the year, Ishwar Pandey, brought it close with three sixes, but fell to Nayar to start a Mumbai comeback that is now looking scary, especially with the return of Sachin Tendulkar.
MP themselves went on to pay dearly for not making it as difficult as Mumbai. Next week, Mumbai went through with merely a first-innings lead, and MP collapsed on a turner in Rajkot to bow out of the tournament they lit up.
Karnataka 572 for 9 decl. (Gautam 264*, Binny 168) and 92 for 2 (Rahul 42*) beat Maharashtra 99 (Mithun 6 for 36, Binny 4-37) and (f/o) 561 (Bawne 155*, Khadiwale 136, Atitkar 78) by eight wickets
If MP v Mumbai brought the Ranji Trophy to life, this brought people to an absolute standstill for an hour or so. In the final round, Karnataka needed to win outright, and have many other results go their way besides. The other results had almost all gone their way, but Karnataka were struggling to keep their end of the bargain on a flat pitch.
They scored 572 for 9 in Pune, bowled Maharashtra out for 99 on a crazy third morning, but ran into obdurate resistance over the next five sessions. Maharashtra not only batted time, but they also scored fast. Towards the final session of the match, they went into lead with wickets, especially that of the centurion Ankit Bawne in hand. Elsewhere they saw Delhi, competitors for a place in the quarters, meet the same fate against Vidarbha, and rallied again.
The final session began with a deficit of 40 for Karnataka, and four wickets yet to be taken. The pitch remained flat. Abhimanyu Mithun, though, provided the inspiration with three quick wickets, and an inspired bowling change gave part-timer Amit Verma the fourth. It was still now over. They still had to go out and chase 89 in 13 overs, preferably without losing a wicket. They lost one, which meant now their win would amount to nothing if Delhi won their game, which was going on at the same time.
So with a prayer in the heart, they kept chasing, and reached their target with eight balls to spare. About 10 balls before that, news had poured in than Delhi had run out of time. What a finish.
Andhra 329 (Muzumdar 146, Sahabuddin 49) and 191 (CP Shahid 5-52) drew with Kerala 312 (Samson 122, Jagadeesh 117, Vijaykumar 4-77, Atchuta Rao 4-78) and 192 for 4 (Jagadeesh 70, Samson 51)
It was not all over yet. There was another group to take care of. In Group C, with Jharkhand winning their match outright, Andhra and Kerala now needed nothing less an outright win to progress. Most of the final day went by without much intent, and when Andhra - leading on the first innings - were bowled out, Kerala were left 209 to chase in 25 overs.
Now that is a huge chase in first-class cricket, and accordingly Kerala offered a draw, but Andhra still wanted to take their chance. Quickly, though, it all changed around, and aggressive fields allowed a few runs, and now Kerala began to go after the total. VA Jagadeesh, their highest run-getter this season, and Sanju Samson both scored quick half-centuries as the match headed deep into overtime with light still holding good.
However, with 17 runs required off the last over, about 50 minutes after scheduled close, the light had deteriorated enough for the umpires to allow only spinners to bowl. Andhra, who by now had nothing to gain or lose in terms of progression, still had a match to lose, and refused to bowl a slow bowler. The match ended in a draw.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo