The 2022-23 Ranji Trophy is set to enter its business end, with the quarter-finals line-up having been decided on Friday.
, the defending champions, will have a shot at a second straight title while Mumbai, runners-up of the previous season
, are out in dramatic circumstances. Bengal
, whose Ranji dream was scuppered in the 2020 final
, and Karnataka,
without first-class silverware since 2014-15
, will be making a serious pitch. Punjab
will be looking to shed bridesmaid status, while Andhra
have gotten this far courtesy a mix of excellent cricket and a massive stroke of luck.
Then there are tickets for Jharkhand, Uttarakhand and Saurashtra, who will be without three key players. Jaydev Unadkat, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravindra Jadeja are all part of India's Test squad to face Australia and will be part of a preparatory camp in Nagpur from February 2.
The stars align for Andhra
"Four wins out of seven but we are gutted to miss the knockouts. We'll come back stronger next year." That was Andhra captain Hanuma Vihari
on Twitter on Thursday afternoon, expressing the genuine disappointment of missing out on the Ranji Trophy quarter-finals soon after beating Assam
Andhra had achieved their share of the bargain by winning with a bonus point but needed a miracle to qualify. They needed the Mumbai-Maharashtra game
to not only end in a draw, but also with neither side taking a first-innings lead. And it happened. A first-innings tie actually happened.
Then, Maharashtra stumbled to 58 for 5 in their second dig, eliciting prospects of a Mumbai win, only for the lower-order pair of Azim Kazi (75) and Saurabh Nawale (47) adding vital runs to propel Maharashtra to 252. This meant Mumbai needed 253 in 28 overs, and they made quite a dash but eventually ran out of time. They were 195 for 6 in 27.3 overs when play ended.
Both sides will have plenty of time to reflect on the what-ifs. But that such an unlikely possibility of a tied first innings came to Andhra's rescue is quite a story.
In 87 previous Ranji Trophy seasons, there had been only nine instances of first-innings scores being tied. And when Mumbai were tottering at 238 for 6 in response to Maharashtra's 384, Andhra's hopes were on the mat. A lead would have propelled Maharashtra to 28 points, enough to secure the second quarterfinal berth from Elite Group B, behind Saurashtra. But there was a twist.
, 27, may have not played had Hardik Tamore not been injured. Mumbai's reserve wicketkeeper was thrust right into the fight and he had to bat out of his skin to keep the team in the hunt for a first-innings lead that would give them a berth in the knockouts.
Pawar's first two outings were far from memorable. Now here he was, promoted to No. 3 against a competent Maharashtra attack on a challenging Brabourne Stadium surface. He saw the entire middle order crumble. He had to now bat with the lower order to try and make a match of it. And he did a darn good job, stonewalling the bowlers to bring up a maiden first-class century in just his third match.
Pawar found an ally in Tanush Kotian
, the allrounder who kept battling even with six stitches in his right hand. An almost rookie and a guy struggling to hold the bat put on 68 to take Mumbai to within 78 runs of Maharashtra's score. But at 306 for 6, Pawar fell for 145. Kotian kept going with Tushar Deshpande and Mohit Avasthi to take Mumbai within touching distance.
When Avasthi fell, Mumbai needed 12 to tie and 13 to take a lead with one wicket standing. A lead would've given Mumbai, last season's runners-up, a doorway into the knockouts. But then with scores level at 384, Kotian went for an expansive sweep against the turn to left-arm spinner Vicky Ostwal, only to miss the ball altogether. The stumps were knocked back and Mumbai finished exactly on the same score as Maharashtra. Heartbreak.
A few minutes later, Vihari's tweet of anguish disappeared. Perhaps he knew now that with just four sessions left in the match, Mumbai and Maharashtra may not have the time to force an outright result.
Basant Mohanty signs off in style
Just prior to the start of his final first-class game, Odisha's workhorse Basant Mohanty
wanted to tick off one last box from his wishlist: dismissing Bengal's Manoj Tiwary
before he leaves the first-class stage. Nearly 15 years ago in Siliguri, Mohanty had dismissed Tiwary for his maiden first-class scalp. At Eden
, Mohanty did as he wished for, dismissing Tiwary in the second innings. Odisha went on to win by an innings to record their first victory of the season. Mohanty's overall numbers read a mighty impressive 403 wickets in 105 matches at an average of 20.97. Bengal, however, qualified as Group A toppers.
Hyderabad, Nagaland relegated
Amid administrative turmoil, talks of infighting within the association and inconsistency in selection, Hyderabad endured a nightmarish season that consigned them to the Plate Group of the next Ranji Trophy. Hyderabad didn't manage a single win and finished last in Elite Group B with a solitary point in seven games. In fact, Hyderabad and Nagaland (two points from seven games), the other side to be relegated, were among only three teams (Chandigarh being the other) to not record a single win this season. Chandigarh managed to avoid the drop though, aggregating seven points thanks to five draws.
Meanwhile, Bihar and Manipur
, currently playing the Plate final, have earned promotion to the Elite division for the next season. Bihar are on track to be crowned Plate champions after piling on a massive first-innings total (532) that has helped them take a 195-run lead.
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo