Now that the Ranji Trophy is finally in Mumbai's hands for the 34th time, it is time to reflect for a while on the teams that did better than they were expected to, the teams who improved on their performance in the last tournament and the teams which didn't quite measure upto expectations.
Number one on the list has to be Mumbai. They came back from a situation where they did not even qualify for the Super League in the 1998/99 tournament. Their failure to do so last year was one of the biggest shocks in Indian domestic cricket history. However they proved that their failure to qualify was only an aberration. This year, Mumbai not only topped the zonal points table, but they then went on to register an all win record in the Super League before going on to take the Ranji Trophy with two more outright victories in the semifinals and final. The previous occasion when a team went on to win the Ranji Trophy without having qualified for the Super League stage the year before was when Karnataka won the 1997/98 championship.
Their determination to win the tournament and erase the unhappy memories of the previous year was apparent in the way the Mumbai Cricket Association requested a postponement of the semifinal against Tamil Nadu to accommodate Sachin Tendulkar in the side. On the field, they could do little wrong, especially the moment Tendulkar chose to impose himself on the hapless bowlers.
Last year's losing finalists Madhya Pradesh fell way short of expectations by not even making the Super League stage. Without the guidance of Chandrakant Pandit, who had announced his retirement after last year's Ranji Trophy final, MP were unable to lift their game. In fact they did not win a single match in the Central Zone league. With the exception of their encounter against Railways, MP failed to take the first innings lead in any of their games in the zonal league, which is a fair indication of their bowling and batting weaknesses. It was a big comedown from the previous year's final where they were so close to victory when the fifth day dawned before they went down to Karnataka.
Delhi, which made the knock-out last season did not make it past the Super League stage. In fact they performed very poorly finishing without a single win in their four Super League games. Even considering the fact that their group was an extremely tough one with Mumbai, Karnataka and Bengal vying to grab the spots for the knock out stage, Delhi under-performed. With a strong batting order consisting of Ashu Dani, Ajay Sharma, Virendra Shewag and Mithun Minhas along with the skills of wicketkeeper-batsman Vijay Dahiya, Delhi was expected to put up huge scores. But they had five scores in the 200-300 region in their Super League encounters. This implied that the batsmen failed when it mattered most.
Karnataka, which has been a champion for two years running, ended up losing in the semifinal on the first innings lead to Hyderabad. While this does not imply that they under-performed, their overall performance was disappointing. They lost to Tamil Nadu in the South Zone league. Their batting was inconsistent and they had just one 400 plus score from the five games they played in the Super League and knock-out stages. Three scores between 200 and 300 indicate that the batsmen did not apply themselves and the bowlers frequently had to bail them out of trouble. On the few occasions the bowlers failed, Karnataka faltered too. The semi-final against Hyderabad was indicative of this. Hyderabad accumulated 711 for eight declared and Karnataka were virtually out of contention.
Mumbai winning the Ranji Trophy is not normally news. This year it was given the circumstances already described.