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Karthik Krishnaswamy in Indore
January 20, 2014
After Harshad Khadiwale knocked Sandipan Das for a single that took Maharashtra to their first Ranji Trophy final in 21 years, his team's celebrations were muted. The players formed a line outside the dressing room and waited for the Maharashtra openers, the Bengal team, and the match officials to cross the ropes and shake hands with them. No one brandished a stump in a frenzied victory dance. It's likely that no one even managed to get hold of one as a souvenir.
Surendra Bhave, Maharashtra's coach, said his players might have been disappointed they had not won by an innings. "The fact that they did not celebrate in a big way shows that they wanted to win it in even better style," Bhave said. "I told them that if a team wins a semi-final game on day three, they should be proud of themselves. They tonked us about a little bit in the end, made us bat again, but ultimately, match finishing in three days, Maharashtra victorious, I can't complain."
Apart from that half-session when Wriddhiman Saha and Bengal's tailenders delayed the inevitable by clouting 160 in 117 balls, Maharashtra dominated the semi-final.
"The whole year, we had our ups and downs...bowling not clicking, catches not being taken, losing wickets at the wrong time," Bhave said. "Every day, when we were bowling, we thought we were two wickets short. Every day, when we were batting, we thought [we were] maybe 50 runs short or maybe [lost] 2-3 wickets too many. But it has worked brilliantly."
The win over Mumbai in the quarter-finals, Bhave said, had sent belief coursing through his players' veins. "That Mumbai game has changed the complete mindset of the team," he said. "Simply amazing. I keep going back to that game, because Mumbai won four sessions in a row, then Maharashtra won five sessions in a row, and the match. Over the nine sessions it lasted, Maharashtra won five in a row."
In the semi-final, Maharashtra's bowlers had extracted life out of the pitch in both innings, while their batsmen had made it look comparatively easy to bat on.
"I'm happy that you've noticed that," Bhave said. "Because many a times in the past few years, I've noticed that when Maharashtra bat, the pitch looks lively, and when we bowl, the pitch looks docile, so it was about time we turned it around."
Part of the reason for this were the techniques of Maharashtra's batsmen. Sangram Atitkar top-scored with 168, but it was Ankit Bawne's 89, according to Bhave, that laid the platform for the team's massive first-innings lead.
"To single out one batsman in this match who actually set it up for us was Ankit's [Bawne] defensive technique," Bhave said. "Absolutely fantastic. And then Sangram Atitkar, that's what he does. He strikes at 80 at No.7 and you can't question it, because he plays that role so well. Every now and then when Viju [Zol] is not there he bats at No.3. Sometimes No.7 does not get importance, but when you play knocks like that at No.7 it becomes a good position to bat."
In reaching the final after starting in Group C, Maharashtra had emulated the achievement of the 2010-11 Rajasthan side that won the tournament after qualifying out of the Plate group, as it was then known, for the knockouts.
"I think it's a great story," Bhave said. "I think it's telling people that there is depth in all three groups now. I've mentioned it before, that I think Hyderabad, Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal were all very good teams. They were good enough to fight against any elite team this year. All of them had three good fast bowlers, decent batting, their fielding looked good. C Group - we took 35 points and topped it, but it was a good group and it's a good commentary on Indian cricket that a team from C is rising to play the final. It shows the depth in Indian cricket now."
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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