Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
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Tamil Nadu 123 for 3 (Hari Nishanth 35, Aparajith 29*, Sheth 1-20) beat Baroda 120 for 9 (Solanki 49, Siddharth 4-20, Aparajith 1-16) by seven wickets
No R Ashwin (India duty). No M Vijay (personal reasons). No Washington Sundar (India duty). No T Natarajan (on a break after Australia tour). No Varun Chakravarthy (rehab at NCA). No Vijay Shankar (injured during the league phase and opted to skip the knockouts for his wedding). No Sandeep Warrier (India nets). No K Vignesh (Covid-positive). No problem for Dinesh Karthik's Tamil Nadu as they still had so much depth and experience that their unbeaten run in the 2020-21 Syed Mushtaq Ali tournament culminated in their second domestic T20 title.
It was the ageless Karthik who had led them to their first Syed Mushtaq Ali crown way back in 2006-07, in the pre-IPL era, as well. R Prasanna, the current side's assistant coach, had returned the best figures for TN in the 2006-07 final.
On Sunday, Karthik unleashed M Siddharth on a Baroda side that had seven right-handers in their top eight, on an Ahmedabad turner, and the left-arm fingerspinner responded with 4 for 20. This was Siddharth's first match of the tournament, having been picked in place of seamer Aswin Crist, and his first T20 since the 2019-20 Syed Mushtaq Ali tournament. R Sai Kishore, TN's premier left-arm fingerspinner, went wicketless, but gave up a mere 11 runs in his four overs.
After TN's spin quartet kept Baroda to 120 for 9, their batsmen aced the chase, with Shahrukh Khan making a charming cameo to finish it off.
Spin, spin, and spin
With the Ahmedabad pitches in the quarter-finals and semi-finals aiding swing, TN initially picked an extra seamer ahead of Siddharth and the conditions were probably the reason why medium-pacer R Sonu Yadav was selected ahead of TNPL yorker specialist G Periyaswamy, Natarajan's protege from Chinnappampatti.
In the final, Yadav and M Mohammed, who had bagged a four-wicket haul in the semi-finals, weren't needed at all until the slog overs. The first 13 overs were all bowled by spinners and Baroda were 59 for 6 at that point.
The first ball from Sai Kishore had turned and bounced. The first ball from B Aparajith also turned and bounced, having Ninad Rathva carving a low catch to KB Arun Karthik at backward point. It was a portent of what was to follow in the first half of the innings.
Siddharth began with a front-foot no-ball and was hit for back-to-back fours by Kedar Devdhar, but he immediately dragged his length back to remove the Baroda captain. After conceding 11 runs in his first over, Siddharth gave up just nine in his next three and took three more wickets. The most eye-catching dismissal was Smit Patel's - pinned in front by a fizzing arm ball from wide of the crease.
Siddharth was released by Kolkata Knight Riders ahead of the auction next month, but his latest performance might make them rethink their decision and attract the attention of other franchises.
At the other end, Sai Kishore tactfully varied his angles and pace to handcuff the Baroda batsmen. He finished the tournament with an economy rate of 4.82 - the second best among bowlers who have delivered at least 20 overs this season. Last season, he had the best economy among bowlers who had sent down at least 20 overs.
Baroda's brief recovery
Vishnu Solanki, who had watched the top and the middle orders collapse around him, saw off the spinners and went after the seamers along with allrounder Atit Sheth. Solanki and Sheth lined up Yadav, taking him for a combined 27 off 17 balls. Solanki's helicopter, which carried Baroda into the semi-finals, made a reappearance on Sunday as they scrambled 54 off their last five overs to add a semblance of respectability to their total.
Aparajith, Shahrukh seal victory
Left-arm seamer Lukman Meriwala, who had bounced out Punjab's Prabhsimran Singh on Friday, dismissed N Jagadeesan too in similar fashion for 14. Jagadeesan's opening partner C Hari Nishanth then hit over the top before Babashafi Pathan had him holing out to long leg for 35. By then, TN had already knocked off 67 from the target.
Karthik came in at No.4 and scored 22 off 16 before Aparajith and Shahrukh guided TN home. Shahrukh displayed his power-hitting once again, strengthening his case for an IPL contract. Like Shahrukh, Aparajith had found no takers in the last auction, but has played his part in TN's success with his quickish offspin and steady batting.
M Siddharth, R Sai Kishore carry Tamil Nadu to second Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy title
TN batsmen aced the chase after Siddharth's 4-20 limited Baroda to 120 for 9
Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy
Elite, Group A
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Elite, Group B
Elite, Group C
Elite, Group D
Elite, Group E