Railways 224 (Khanolkar 73, Kumar 5-32) beat Uttar Pradesh 204 (Khanolkar 3-46) by 20 runs
A gritty allround performance by Shreyas Khanolkar helped Railways clinch the Ranji Trophy one-day tournament by defeating Uttar Pradesh by 20 runs in a tense encounter at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai. It was a fitting end to the season for Railways who had begun the domestic season by winning the Irani Trophy as well. UP, the winners of the Ranji Trophy first-class tournament, lost the opportunity of completing a dream double.
Railways' decision to bat first on a true surface nearly backfired after an inspired opening spell by Praveen Kumar, the UP allrounder, who utilised the conditions - with plenty of lateral movement and bounce - to his advantage. Amit Pagnis and Tejinder Pal Singh fell without scoring while Sanjay Bangar, the captain, and Jai Prakash Yadav perished, after a brief flourish, to Kumar, who had Railways reeling at 41 for 4 in the 12th over.
Khanolkar survived a confident shout for lbw off his first ball but thereafter he and Sushanth Manjrekar grafted for singles and picked up the odd boundary. The pair added 104 for the fifth wicket before Manjrekar, on 47, edged a steep delivery to Amir Khan, the wicketkeeper, off Shalabh Srivastava. Raja Ali fell soon after and the spinners chipped in to restrict Railways. Khanolkar eventually went for 73, stepping down the track to Piyush Chawla and holing out long-off. His innings spanned 92 balls and included five boundaries. Kumar snapped up his fifth victim as soon as he began his second spell, dismissing Rahul Deb, who tried to push the scoring. Ali Murtaza, the left-arm spinner, wrapped up the innings for 224, as Railways were dismissed in the 48th over.
UP began their chase confidently as Kumar struck a 22-ball 21 that included a straight-driven six off Yadav. They were soon pegged back by a double strike by Harvinder Singh. Kumar's cameo was cut short by a brilliant catch by Manjrekar running backwards and Jyoti Prasad Yadav was trapped in front soon after. His dismissal proved crucial as it exposed the inexperienced middle order to slow bowlers who stifled the batsmen.
Bangar utilised the spinners effectively and Kulmani Parida and Khanolkar, unafraid to toss the ball up to induce the lofted strokes, made inroads at regular intervals. The UP batsmen were not prepared to graft and they perished by stepping down the track only to find the fielders. They depended heavily on Ravikanth Shukla but his dismissal for 44, caught on the boundary edge by Yadav brought Railways back into the match.
Khanolkar accounted for Anshul Kapoor and Chawla to finish with figures of 3 for 46. Struggling at 162 for 7, Ali Murtaza and Amir played sensibily and ran well between the wickets during their 32-run eight-wicket partnership before Amir was bowled by Parida while trying to make too much room.
Ironically, it was poor running, resulting in a couple of needless run-outs, that let UP down ultimately. Praveen Gupta went for a risky run and was run-out at the non-striker's end while Srivastava was found short of his crease by Bangar's hurl to the wicketkeeper that capped a professional performance by Railways.
Bangar was obviously delighted and singled out Khanolkar for his performance. He also said he was confident of defending 225, given that UP were without their stars, Suresh Raina, Mohammad Kaif and RP Singh, who are with the Indian squad for the ODI series against England.
"We thought that 225 was a good score on this wicket and knew that we were in with a chance after we got Jyoti Yadav," a visibly excited Bangar said. "They are an inexperienced side and have never been tested under pressure".
Kanishkaa Balachandran is editorial assistant of Cricinfo