Madhya Pradesh end long wait to win Ranji Trophy; beat Mumbai by 6 wickets

Madhya Pradesh, which last won the Ranji Trophy 67 years ago – back then known as Holkar state – finally returned to glory days, thumping powerhouse Mumbai by six wickets on Sunday. Holkar dominated the domestic scene around the time of Indian independence, and in times when cricket relied on benevolence of the antiquated princely states. But the 2021-22 crown counts as the first for the state of MP and for the region since modern-day federalism took firm root in India, and it’s taken a long time coming for the cricket-loving central plateau.

There was the last-afternoon disappointment of the 1998-99 final at the same Chinnaswamy stadium, 23 years ago when Madhya Pradesh had gone down in the final. This time they beat the 41-time champions Mumbai outright by six wickets. The team was coached by former India wicketkeeper-batsman Chandrakant Pandit — hoisted on his players’ shoulders after victory. Pandit has now won his fourth Ranji title in five final appearances in six seasons, after Mumbai in 2015-16, and Vidarbha in 2017-18 and 2018-19.

MP boasts of a rich ancient past and in the 11 seasons from 1944-45 to 1954-55, the erstwhile Holkar team made the Ranji final ten times, and won the title on four occasions, including against Bombay in 1947-48. Boasting greats such as CK Nayudu, CS Nayudu, Syed Mushtaq Ali and Chandu Sarwate, the Holkar era was one of the most dominant for any side in Indian domestic cricket, before the states’ reorganisation led to the formation of Madhya Pradesh in 1956.

For a culture that has produced critical players such as Narend Hirwani, Rajesh Chauhan, Amay Khurasiya, Jai Prakash Yadav, Naman Ojha and Devendra Bundela, and boasts the heritage of the Holkar decade, the 1998-99 final was the only one MP had had to remember with longing all these years. Led by Pandit, MP had taken a 75-run first-innings lead against Karnataka and had one hand on the trophy.

Set a target of 247, they were 108 for 3 and in sight of a draw before collapsing to 150 all out late on the final day. To this day, Bundela, who would become the third-highest run-getter in Ranji history, rues what could have been – for his team as well as for his then dream of playing at the highest level – had he not fallen to Vijay Bharadwaj around tea to spark the MP collapse.

2021-22 looked poised to be different and this team has achieved the ultimate goal despite not having the services of players like Venkatesh Iyer, Avesh Khan, Ishwar Pandey and Kuldeep Sen. They played only four frontline bowlers, leaving out seam regular Puneet Datey and playing a debutant batting all-rounder in Parth Sahani instead.

How Mumbai was outgunned

Gaurav Yadav made his debut back in 2012 but bowled the spell of his life on the first morning of the match, going past Prithvi Shaw’s edge five times in a single over alone. His new-ball partner Anubhav Agarwal made his debut this season, and displayed similar commitment and control, as the pair bowled nearly 65 overs in the first innings. They made the ball do a lot more than the three Mumbai seamers, although they also had a much longer stretch of overcast skies to exploit.

Off-spinner Saransh Jain, playing only his 11th first-class game in eight years, tossed up the ball beautifully and got it to climb. He also played his part in flattening Mumbai with the bat, making a maiden half-century at No 8. Young left-arm spinner Kumar Kartickeya posed questions on an unhelpful surface with his accuracy and ability to drift and cut the quicker ball into the right -handers.

Promising Yash Dubey and veteran Shubham Sharma sucked the fight out of Mumbai with contrasting centuries in a 222-run second-wicket partnership. And Rajat Patidar arrived for bat Mumbai out of the match with a hundred that will be remembered for its disdainful dominance.

MP have been a side that has often made the knockouts but just could not land the final few punches. Pandit’s planning and authority have certainly made a difference but this is also a competent side that has been developing and rebuilding for a while, after the retirement of stalwarts Bundela and Ojha.

“This team has spent a good four-five years together now and that sort of unit develops maturity. Our batch when Chandu bhai was captain was similar – Abbas Ali, Sanjay Pandey, me, JP Yadav, Harvinder Sodhi, it makes a lot of difference when you have such a bunch of players. Some of us went on to play 100-plus games,” Bundela said.

On the final morning of the game, Mumbai went too hard for quick runs in the face of wide lines for MP and lost too many wickets to pose any real threat. Resuming the second innings on 113 for 2, and trailing by 49, Armaan Jaffer and Suved Parkar aggressively before Yadav provided the breakthrough with a surprise, slow full toss that took out Jaffer’s leg stump.

Parkar and Sarfaraz Khan added a brisk 53 to take Mumbai to 192 for 3 when Karticeya broke the stand, bowling Parkar on the attempted cut with a straighter one. An injured Yashasvi Jaiswal lasted two balls, and Mumbai crumbled to 269 all out at lunch. In hindsight, perhaps a more measured approach with the bat could have helped them set a decent target around 175-200, but a mere 108 wasn’t going to test MP.

It will be even more satisfying that the maiden title has come by beating Mumbai, a side that has been long respected in MP cricket for its achievements, and a city with which the commercial and cricketing capital of the state, Indore, shares a partly common cultural heritage given the Holkar background. For now, MP will finally be able to move beyond 1998-99, relax in the glow of victory after a regimented season under their coach, and then start thinking about how to prevent other sides from poaching Pandit for the next season.

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