REVIEW – Mumbai’s 40th title, Agarkar’s personal triumph

  Just last season, Ajit Agarkar had pulled out of the Mumbai Ranji Trophy squad citing differences with the team management following his exclusion from a particular match. Later he was surprisingly picked as captain, and he repaid the team’s faith in his experience by leading Mumbai to a 40th Ranji Trophy title this season. Life did come a full circle for the seasoned pace bowler, who has now been a part of eight Ranji-winning teams.

  Mumbai trounced Saurashtra by an innings and 125 runs in a hugely one-sided final to regain the trophy for which they last won in 2009-10. Mumbai, with 40 wins is now the second most successful first-class team after New South Wales (45 Sheffield Shield titles). Just to put Mumbai’s ruthless dominance in the premier Indian domestic tournament since its inception in 1934-35, no other team has managed more than 7 titles. The period from 1958-59 to 1972-73 was when Mumbai were invincible – they won 15 successive titles during that duration.

Ajit Agarkar_Ranji Trophy_PTI                 The smile says it all – Mumbai’s 40th Ranji Trophy win was also a personal triumph for captain Ajit Agarkar (source – deccanchronicle.com)

  Mumbai might have only just made it to the semi-finals, but there is no denying the fact that this champion team almost always manages to up their game when the stakes are highest. The way their bowlers demolished Saurashtra in the final was truly symbolic of a team desperately hungry to add to their illustrious history. Saurashtra, already having suffered a setback due to the unavailabilty of their two batting mainstays, twice collapsed like a pack of cards, as nerves got the better of them – after all they were playing in a final for the first time (under the team name ‘Saurashtra’), whereas Mumbai were playing their 44th, and that too at their home ground. That Mumbai is a big-game team is best confirmed by the fact that they have lost just 4 out of 44 finals, the last being a heartbreaking 2-run defeat to Haryana in 1990-91.

  As the knockout stages drew closer, Mumbai seemed to be hitting the right notes with all the players putting their hand up whenever it mattered. Abhishek Nayar enjoyed a brilliant season with the bat, finishing second in the top run-scorers list, and only 34 shy of a tally of a thousand. Not to mention his impact with the ball at times – he took a sensational 6/13 against Bengal in the league stage, enlivening  a drawn match. He can certainly be looked as a prospect for a pace-bowling all-rounder in the Indian team, but unfortunately the selectors thought otherwise while picking the India ‘A’ and Board President’s XI squads slated to face the touring Australians in February.

  Dhaval Kulkarni had an ordinary tournament until he ripped through the opposition both in the semifinal and final. In those two crucial games the talented quickie took 14 wickets, in the previous 7 games he had taken 16. Agarkar himself came up with a devastating spell (4/15) as he combined with Kulkarni (5/32) to hasten Saurashtra’s demise in the final, and he even smashed a century at a crucial stage in the semifinal.

Wasim Jaffer century_PTI_0_0_0     The old warhorse Wasim Jaffer broke the record for the most runs and most hundreds in the Ranji Trophy this season (source – deccanchronicle.com)

  Then there is Wasim Jaffer. This absolute legend of the domestic game became the Ranji Trophy’s  highest run-scorer and century-maker of all time during his vital innings of 132 in the final. Jaffer put behind his personal worries (his father is hospitalised) and logged 835 runs in just 7 matches. I strongly feel that Jaffer deserves a second wind as far as a place in the Indian Test team is concerned, especially in the current scenario of a struggling opening pair. Jaffer was ably supported by the youngsters wicketkeeper Aditya Tare, opener Kaustubh Pawar and middle-order batsman Hiken Shah. Tare in particular came of age with a handsome tally of 842 runs. Ankeet Chavan, the slow left arm bowler, bowled the most sensational spell of the season when he took 9/23 against Punjab in the league stage (the third best Ranji figures). Sachin Tendulkar played a substantial part of the tournament after quite some time, and hopefully his two hundreds will give him confidence going into the important rubber against Australia.

  Agarkar proved to be a really effective leader, always there to pep up the youngsters and ever-responsive to ideas and suggestions, as Mumbai’s coach Sulakshan Kulkarni also agreed. He might not have had as successful a Test career as he would have liked (though he was a regular in the ODI team till 2007), but this victory will certainly rank as one of the best moments of his career. The veteran of 16 seasons had been part of seven Ranji-winning squads, but as captain of a winning team the joy would surely have been greater, especially after the unwanted incident of last year.

  The exploits of Jaffer and Nayar have rightfully led many to talk of their national comebacks, but there do not seem to be any such hopes for Agarkar, for at the moment he must be deservedly savouring his personal triumph. The lanky journey-man, for all you know, might be already planning for yet another Ranji season. For there are more trophies to be won – New South Wales’ record needs to be broken after all.

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IN FOCUS – Pakistan in South Africa Test series 2012-13 : Preview

  Yet another mouth-watering series involving world champions South Africa awaits cricket fans around the world, as they take on Pakistan at home after six years, starting from February 1. Though this time it won’t be a tussle for the world championship as Pakistan sit fourth currently, there will be no doubt that it will be a fascinating duel between the champions and the challengers.

large_5dd78fcb-1b31-8938-46d3-50448cdad9f8

The Matches

  The series will commence with the first Test from February 1-5 at the Wanderers in Johannesburg. The next two Tests will be held Newlands in Cape Town (February 14-18) and the SuperSport Park in Centurion (February 22-26) respectively. Pakistan have failed to win in any of the 5 Tests they have played across these three venues, losing 4 of them. South Africa’s 2-1 win in the 2006-07 was achieved by wins at Centurion and Cape Town.

Head To Head and Recent Record

  18 Tests have been contested between the two countries since they first met each other in 1994-95, South Africa winning 8, Pakistan 3 and 7 being drawn affairs. 9 of these Tests have been played in South Africa, with the hosts enjoying a 6-2 advantage. The last time the two teams met was in 2010-11, when a 2-match series in the UAE was drawn 0-0. The last time South Africa hosted Pakistan was in 2006-07, when South Africa won a well-contested 3-Test series by a 2-1 margin.

Form Book and Ranking

  South Africa extended their stay at the top by a crushing 2-0 sweep against New Zealand at home recently. The Proteas have been undefeated in a series since 2008-09 (when they lost to Australia 2-1 at home), and their recent record is clearly worthy of being champions – they followed their championship-clinching win in England with one in Australia two months back.

  4th-ranked Pakistan have greatly impressed of late, in spite of playing relatively few matches than other higher-ranked nations. Their last series was in Sri Lanka in 2012, where they lost the 3-Test series 1-0 – their first loss after 7 series and nearly two years. Prior to that, Pakistan famously whitewashed then champions England 3-0 in the UAE. They have won 9 and lost 2 out of 18 matches since the 2010 spot-fixing controversy. Under the calm Misbah-ul-Haq, they have found great consistency, which as a rule has been conspicuous by its absence in earlier Pakistan sides. Knowing Smith’s weakness against quality left-arm pace, his duel with Junaid will be a fascinating one.

Players To Watch Out For

IN01_SMITH_1285194f   Greame Smith is set to be the first man to captain in 100 Tests in the series, and his starts with the bat will be vital for the hosts  (source – thehindu.com)

  Record-breaking South African skipper Greame Smith will captain a Test side for the 100th time (including once for ICC World XI) when he leads South Africa onto the field in the first Test at Johannesburg, while the second Test will be officially his 100th as South African captain. Handed the Test captaincy at the age of 20 ten years back, Smith is undoubtedly one of the modern day greats, and right up there with the best captains of all time. He will be looking to have a good time with the bat as well, given that he is the 2nd-highest run-scorer in Tests between South Africa and Pakistan with 849 runs (623 behind first-placed Jacques Kallis) including 3 hundreds.

  The Pakistani team is filled with quite a few promising young fast bowlers, but none more so than the 23-year old left-arm seamer Junaid Khan. His 8-Test career statistics might not be awe-inspiring (27 wickets at 26.70), but he is already being touted as the next great Pakistani fast bowler. Junaid has the ability to regularly swing the ball both ways, and this makes him a potential threat in South African conditions, especially since all his Tests so far have been played on slow and dry pitches.

junaid-khan-pak-sl-2012-reu-670     The highly-rated fast bowler Junaid Khan might just make life difficult for the South African batsmen with his impressive swing (source – dawn.com)

Prediction

  It will be a battle of two bowling attacks – South Africa’s high class pace battery pitted against Pakistan’s young fast-bowling crop and of course, Saeed Ajmal. With conditions usually tilted in favour of the bowlers, expect all three Tests to end in results (why, only one out of the last ten Tests in the Rainbow Nation has ended in a draw). South Africa’s top-order are certainly superior on paper, but one must not forget that Pakistan too has a solid batting line-up. A close series is on the cards and after giving a bit of thought, I have settled with the same scoreline as in 2006-07 – A 2-1 win for South Africa. Let us wait and watch.

IN FOCUS – ICC Women’s World Cup 2013 : Preview

  Starting from January 31 and running till February 17th, the tenth edition of the ICC Women’s World Cup will be held in two cities of India – Mumbai and Cuttack. Interestingly  the first ever Women’s World Cup was held in England in 1973 – two years before the first Men’s World Cup. Let us look at what can we expect from the 2013 tournament, the third to be held in India (after 1978 and 1997).

The Format

  The format is unchanged from the 2009 edition, with eight teams divided into two groups of four. Each team plays the other three teams in its group once on a round-robin format, with the top three teams in each group qualifying for the Super Six phase. In the Super Six, each team plays three games against the qualifiers from the other group, while carrying through their results against the other qualifiers from their original group. There are no semi-finals – the first and second-placed Super Six teams progress straight to the final on 17 February, while there are also play-offs for third/fourth, fifth/sixth and seventh/eighth place.

The Grounds

  The five grounds used for the tournament will be the historic Brabourne stadium (Cricket Club of India), Middle Income Group (MIG) Ground and the Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC) ground in Mumbai; and the Barabati Stadium and the Driems Cricket Ground in Cuttack. The final will be played at the Brabourne on 17th February. 

The Teams

Group A

_65044492_england_women_getty       England are the defending champions, having won the trophy in 2009 in Australia (source – bbc.co.uk)

England

  The defending champions as usual start as one of the hot favourites to win their fourth title. They will be lead by Charlotte Edwards, who holds the record for the most ODI appearances by a woman (160, including 86 as skipper). England have entered all but three out of the nine finals so far, so they certainly relish the big stage in the 50 overs format. They will surely aim at a final spot as par for the course. 

India

  The home team, captained by veteran Mithali Raj, have a reasonably good chance of going the distance, their best result being finishing runners-up in 2005. But the fact remains that they are still found wanting in big games against the likes of England and Australia, which they will be keen to correct. Anything less than a top three finish would be a disappointment. 

21-isbs-mithali_21_1305561g    The world’s top-ranked ODI batswoman will play the double role of captain and most dependable player for hosts India (source – thehindu.com)

West Indies

  The West Indies can be termed as the dark horses of the tournament. A win over either England or India will surely boost their already rising confidence. The key will be to convert a few good individual displays into regular team showings. They will be lead by the batswoman Merissa Aguilleira.

Sri Lanka

  The Sri Lankans finished last in 2009, and will look to do better this time around. They start as underdogs, and lack of recent matches may harm them – they have not played an ODI for nine months. Led by Shashikala Siriwardene, they will need a couple of good results to harbour hopes of entering the Super Six.

Group B

Australia

  The most successful team ever in the World Cup (5 wins in 7 finals) will be aiming at their second world title within five months, having successfully defended the World T20 in September last year, and surely they do have a very well-rounded squad to fulfill that goal. Wicketkeeper Jodie Fields will lead the side.

New Zealand

  One of the top three teams in the world ever since the first Women’s ODI was played, New Zealand have somehow flattered to deceive in World Cups, having won just one title, in 2000. The White Ferns, who were the runners-up in 2009 have the potential to enter the finals again, with their captain Suzie Bates in very good form of late with the bat.

Pakistan

  Pakistan will look at a Super Six entry as a success. They are relatively inexperienced at the world stage, having played in only two editions so far – 1997 and 2009. Progressing beyond the Super Six into the final will be a near-impossible task for this Sana Mir-led side, which will bank on its bowlers to deliver.

South Africa

  South Africa finished second-last in 2009, and start the tournament with limited hopes, just like Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Their best result so far has been a semifinal entry in 2000. They will take a lot of inspiration from their experienced skipper Cri-Zelda Brits, and a recent drawn series against West Indies will hold them in good stead.

Players To Watch Out For

Stefanie Taylor (West Indies)

  Opener Taylor has been the Women’s ODI player of the year for the past two years, and West Indies’ success will depend a lot on the form of this talented young batswoman, who can mix both caution and aggression while compiling an innings.

_64419108_hoolycolvintraininggetty      Left arm spinner Holly Colvin is expected to play a big role if England are to defend their title (source – bbc.co.uk and getty images)

Holly Colvin (England)

  At just 23, the left arm spinner Holly Colvin is already experienced in ODI cricket, having played 59 times for England, in which she averages 22. This wicket-taking bowler will be expected to play a major role on the slow tracks on offer. 

Mithali Raj (India)

  Raj, who is India’s captain and most experienced player, is the world’s top-ranked batswoman in ODI’s. She averages an excellent 48.27 in 141 ODI’s so far, and this is her best chance to be part of a World Cup winning team, in front of her home crowd. India will expect her to lead from the front.

Prediction

Super Sixes – England, India, West Indies, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa

Finalists – England, Australia; 3rd place – India or New Zealand 

However, the West Indies can just prove to be a party-pooper for either of the above mentioned potential top four teams. Further, I most likely expect either England or Australia to win the title.

IN FOCUS – 2012-13 Ranji Trophy final : Preview

  After a gruelling two and a half-months of back-to-back matches, the time has come for the summit clash of this season’s Ranji Trophy. The two finalists are Mumbai and Saurashtra, two teams which did not really look like potential finalists during the league phase, but they both have managed to up their game when it mattered most. The two in-form teams of the league phase, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, fell by the wayside in the quarterfinals and the semifinals respectively. The final will be played from January 26-30 at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai. In the league match between the two teams, Mumbai scored a win on the first-innings lead easily.

The Teams

Mumbai

  The most prolific team in the tournament’s history are yet again in a final – their 44th. The 39-time champions did not have the smoothest of times in the league stage – they won only one match outright, and that too by just 7 runs against Madhya Pradesh. They finished third in Group A with 23 points, level with their fellow finalists Saurashtra. In the final, Mumbai will be boosted by the presence of stalwarts like Sachin Tendulkar, Zaheer Khan and Wasim Jaffer. They are known to play their best in finals, as only 4 losses in 43 finals prove, the last being in 1990-91, when they lost to Haryana by just 2 runs.

  Mumbai also have the advantage of playing at their home ground, and will know the conditions well. Mumbai won rather easily on the first innings lead in the quarterfinals against Baroda, but in the semifinals, they prevailed over gritty Services only on the sixth (reserve) day, as a combination of poor weather and resistance from the opposition often threatened to thwart Mumbai’s march to the final. Their batting has peaked at the right time, with Wasim Jaffer back to prime form, and the likes of Abhishek Nayar and Aditya Tare scoring runs in almost every outing. Dhaval Kulkarni’s impressive bowling in the semifinal will surely hearten the Mumbai camp.

Saurashtra

  I had predicted that Saurashtra without Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravindra Jadeja would falter in the semifinals against Punjab, but they proved me wrong in style, with a resounding 229-run win. Saurashtra also finished with 23 points in the league phase, second in Group A with just two outright wins. In the quarterfinals, they scored a win on the first innings lead over Karnataka.

  Pujara and Jadeja have been instrumental in Saurashtra reaching their first final in 75 years, but they will have to miss out the final match as well, thanks to the absurd scheduling of cricket in India (both are on national duty with the Indian ODI team). It was Saurashtra’s bowlers who starred in the semifinals though, with off spinner Vishal Joshi bagging 9 wickets. Saurashtra will no doubt be disappointed due to the absence of their two star batsmen in such a momentous match, but captain Jaydev Shah and Sheldon Jackson can more than pack a punch with the bat, as shown in recent matches. For the record, Saurashtra have never beaten Mumbai outright in a Ranji match. 

th08-Ranji-Mumb_TH_1324245e      The in-form Abhishek Nayar will be Mumbai’s Mr.Dependable in the final (source – thehindu.com)

Players To Watch Out For

Mumbai – Abhishek Nayar, who has smashed 940 runs at 104.44 this season needs just 56 more runs to become this season’s highest run-scorer. If he continues in the same vein, he can not only help Mumbai to the title, but also stake claim for an all-rounder’s spot in the national team.

Saurashtra – Sheldon Jackson’s form is peaking at the right time, and he will surely be banked upon to score big in the absence of Pujara and Jadeja. He has logged 742 runs this season so far and made an important 107 in the semi-final. This is his chance to be a hero.

Prediction

  It will be a close game of cricket, and an outright result is a great possibility, unless the curator plays spoilsport by rolling out a belter. Mumbai have the edge, and I foresee a 40th Ranji title for them. But interestingly, I have earlier ruled out Saurashtra’s chances twice (of progressing to the quarterfinals and then the final), so I won’t be surprised if they prove me wrong the third time. I just hope that the pitch is a sporting one, something which has been a rarity this season. 

WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT IT – Archie MacLaren’s parting shot

  One of the strongest teams ever to leave Australia arrived in England in 1921 to defend the Ashes, which they had ruthlessly won by an unprecedented 5-0 margin at home just a few months back. Led by Warwick Armstrong, the team boasted the likes of Warren Bardsley, Charlie Macartney and Jack Gregory. Not that the Englishmen were weak – they had illustrious names like Percy Holmes, Frank Woolley and Wilfred Rhodes; but the thrashing Down Under meant that Armstrong’s Australians were clearly in a better frame of mind.

  Those were the days when the touring team used to play so many first class games in England, that the whole tour lasted for almost 5 months. The Australians gunned down most of the counties as well as the minor teams, and went on to retain the Ashes by winning the first three Tests by 10 wickets, 8 wickets and 219 runs respectively, before England managed to draw the next two, resulting in a 3-0 win for the visitors. After the Ashes were done and dusted, the former England captain Archibald MacLaren proclaimed that this hitherto-unbeaten-on-tour Australian side was indeed beatable. ‘I think I know how to beat Armstrong’s lot. Come and write about it’, MacLaren wrote to the great cricket writer Neville Cardus of the Guardian

  To put things into perspective, MacLaren’s career had long ended – he played his last Test in 1909. The Australians had not lost a single game on the tour, so what chance did MacLaren, and his team of amateurs that he brought together, have of competing with them, let alone win ? It was great of MacLaren to be optimistic, but it pays to be realistic, at least that was what Cardus thought at first. Yet, the legendary writer was in attendance for this interesting mismatch – Archie MacLaren’s England XI v Australians, at the Saffrons in Eastbourne on the 27th of August. Needless to say, he was the only reporter present there.

220px-Archie_MacLaren      Archie MacLaren, the man who challenged Warwick Armstrong’s mighty 1921 lot at age 49 (source – wikipedia.org)

  Australia had their full-strength team out on the field, and immediately proved the gap between the two sides by bowling out ‘Archie’s innocents’, as they were called, for a paltry 43 in just 20.1 overs and 75 minutes. The magnificent fast bowler Ted McDonald took 5/21. Only Percy Chapman (16), who was to become an Ashes-winning captain in the future, crossed double figures. The Australians themselves were bowled out for 174 (Warren Bardsley 70, Michael Falcon 6/67) rather quickly on the first day, perhaps with the feeling that they would then bowl out the amateurs cheaply again and get done with the game. At close of play on the first day, MacLaren’s XI were already 8/1, still 123 behind. Old Archie’s over-enthusiastic prophecy was fast turning false.

  MacLaren failed to add to his overnight score, and was bowled for 5 by McDonald early on the second day. At 60/4, things were all going according to the script. At which point came in Aubrey Faulkner, still a Test player for South Africa, and best known for being one of South Africa’s famous googly quartet. Faulkner joined Hubert Ashton in the middle, and they together proceeded to blunt Armstrong’s Invincibles. The duo put on 154 for the fifth wicket, and their their team finally looked like putting up a semblance of a fight. Ashton made 75, while Faulkner recorded one of his best knocks – a gallant 153. The team total swelled to 326 (McDonald taking 6/98 to have 11/119 in the match), and the Australians not only had to bat again, but also get 196 runs to win the match. Right-arm fast medium bowler Clement Gibson of Cambridge University (he played first-class cricket for Argentina in later years!) got rid of Herbert Collins early, as the visitors ended the second day at 25/1. 

  On Day 3, the in-form Bardsley and Hanson Carter motored the score along to 52/1, when Gibson bowled the former. Falcon then bowled McCartney with a beauty to make it 73/4, which was, in Wisden’s opinion, the turning point. The tide was turning, the Australians looked like struggling for the first time in nine months. John Ryder and Thomas Andrews looked like resuming normalcy with a 40-run 6th wicket stand, but the unheralded Gibson proved too hot to handle for the mighty Australians. The tail quickly subsided, and Gibson (6/64) bowled Arthur Mailey to finish the match. The Australians were bowled out for 164, losing their first match on tour by 28 runs to a side made up of amateurs.

10677     Argentine-born Clement Gibson stunned the Australians with a six-wicket haul in the second innings (source – cricketarchive.com)

  MacLaren’s Innocents had achieved what England could not, in spite of trying a record 30 players in the Ashes – a win against Australia. ‘Not in his heyday did he give us finer captaincy than he has given us in this match’, wrote a jubliant Cardus in the Guardian. Cardus’ faith had been rewarded, for he had the honour of writing about Australia’s only defeat of the summer. ‘The sensation of the season’, observed Wisden. MacLaren duly announced his farewell from cricket, and the man had indeed kept his word. It was truly unbelievable to assemble a team of bits-and-pieces players and going on to lead them to victory against an Australian team that lost to none else. It undoubtedly remains one of the unlikeliest results in the history of the game, and certainly MacLaren’s finest moment.

  ‘I saw MacLaren coming from the field, conqueror in the last great match of his career in England, his sweater hung about his shoulders and his grey head bared to the crowd as he raised his cap to acknowledge their acclamations’, wrote Cardus.  For the record, MacLaren (1871-1944) played 35 Tests for England, and is also remembered for his 424 for Lancashire against Somerset at Taunton in 1895, a first-class score that stood unbeaten for nearly thirty years. He incidentally played 424 first-class matches in all, of which the Eastbourne game would surely have been closest to his heart.

Match Scorecard – http://cricketarchive.com/Archive/Scorecards/10/10306.html

SPECIALS – Tribute to Rusi Surti

  The gutsy all-rounder Rusi Surti (born May 25, 1936 in Surat) passed away on 13th January in Mumbai due to a heart attack, aged 76. He was a key member of the Indian Test side in the 60’s, and in spite of his versatile all-round abilities, ended up playing only 26 Tests. He was often referred to as the ‘poor man’s Sobers’ – he played in the same era as the great Garfield Sobers played. 

  Surti, an aggressive left-handed batsman, a left-arm medium pace bowler (who could also bowl spin) and an excellent fielder, made his debut at the Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai in the 1960-61 series against Pakistan. He made an impact early in his Test career, scoring 64 in his second Test at Delhi, adding 107 for the second wicket with his captain and fellow Parsi Nari Contractor. On the 1961-62 tour of the West Indies (during which Contractor’s career was over after he was hit by a  Charlie Griffith bouncer), Surti was impressive, collecting 246 runs in 5 matches, as India were blanked 5-0.

  His career was affected by the fact that he was often in and out of the playing eleven, but this did not quite deter him, as he reserved his best for the 1967-68 tour of Australia. India were whitewashed again, this time 4-0, but Surti stood tall, finishing as the highest run-scorer for his side – 367 runs at 45.87 with four fifties. To add to it, he was the second highest wicket-taker in the series, with 15 scalps (Erapalli Prasanna lead the charts with 25 victims). In the same season, Surti scored 321 runs at 45.85 in India’s 3-1 win in New Zealand, which was India’s first ever overseas victory.

rusi_1      Rusi Surti batting for Queensland during his Sheffield Shield stint (source – mid-day.com)

  In the fourth Test of the New Zealand tour at Auckland, Surti made a career-best of 99 in the second innings, as India scored a series-clinching 272 run victory. His last Test was also at the Brabourne, against Australia in 1969-70. However his love for cricket had not diminished. By this time, he was plying his trade for Queensland in the Sheffield Shield – he became the first Indian to play in Australia’s premier tournament. Surti had played first-class cricket for Gujarat and Rajasthan with success, but it was his showing on the 1967-68 tour Down Under that made Queensland notice his all-round ability. He generally came lower down the order, a fact shown by his 6 hundreds and 54 fifties in all first-class cricket. His overall first-class career ran from 1956 to 1973.

  Surti was known for his energy on the field. His former India team mate Chandu Borde said, ‘when a batsman hit the ball hard, Rusi, usually standing at a close-in position, would rush to the ball. That approach was completely in contrast to the rest of fielders who would normally wait for the ball to come’. Contractor said that he was a team man, and would willingly bat up the order against quality bowlers for the team’s sake. He was also very gritty, and many feel he would have been a very good limited-overs player. Some feel his Test career ended prematurely, and indeed, he could have offered a lot more to the Indian team. Surti settled in Australia after his retirement, and ran a private coaching clinic in Brisbane, and was a regular presence at the Indian team’s practice sessions whenever the team was in town while on tour.

  Surti was acknowledged as one of the pivots of the Indian team after his success in the 1967-68 season, yet he played only three more Tests. Surely, he was a lot more talented than his numbers suggest. Many found it disappointing to note that the Indian team members failed to wear a black arm-band in his remembrance when they took the field two days after his death in an ODI against England. They do have point there, as many of today’s generation fail to acknowledge the stalwarts of the past. But for those who followed India’s still-nascent cricket fortunes in the 60’s, Surti was a key player – India’s answer to Gary Sobers, and a fighter with an extremely positive attitude. 

Tests – 26  Runs – 1263  Average – 28.70  Wickets – 42  Average – 46.71

First Class matches – 160  Runs – 8066  Average – 30.9  Wickets – 284  Average – 37.07

May his soul rest in peace. 

IN FOCUS – 2012-13 Ranji Trophy semifinals : Preview

  In my Ranji Trophy Preview post of November, I had predicted the following quarterfinal line-up – Rajasthan, Mumbai  Punjab, Delhi, Baroda, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh. While Punjab and Uttar Pradesh won resoundingly in the league stage, Mumbai and Baroda had to struggle a bit to make the grade. I clearly underestimated the strength of Saurashtra, but it were my Group C predictions that fell flat. Jharkhand and Services ultimately made the grade from that pool, the latter surprising everyone by entering the semi-finals after a spirited win over U.P in the quarterfinals. 

  Among the four predicted teams that did not make the cut,Rajasthan were mediocre throughout the league phase, and two-time defending champions surprisingly finished second-last in their pool. Delhi and Andhra missed out by just a point, while Himachal were below average. Three of the quarterfinals were played on extremely placid wickets, resulting in dull cricket. The fourth quarterfinal was the opposite – Services beating U.P on a sporting track, highlighting the need to prepare more such tracks for knockout fixtures. Services are fast becoming what Rajasthan were two years back, but whether they go all the way as well remains to be seen, as a tough semifinal against Mumbai awaits. Here’s a brief look at what the semi-finals, to be played from January 16-20, have in store:-

Saurashtra v Punjab at Rajkot

  Ravindra Jadeja and Cheteshwar Pujara have been quite merciless on the opposition bowlers this season, and have been the pillars of Saurashtra’s impressive performance. But the catch is, both these men are likely to miss the crucial semi-final, as they are on national duty with the Indian ODI squad. Punjab will look to cash in on this opportunity, and their batsmen will relish the Rajkot pitch – notably young Jiwanjot Singh, who has had an outstanding debut season – averaging 70 in 9 matches with 5 hundreds. Punjab have a better bowling unit than the home team, and that might just be a factor in deciding the game, and their captain Harbhajan Singh will be itching to prove a point to the national selectors that all has not faded as far his bowling prowess is concerned. 

TH04-Ranji-HYD-_TH_1258126e      Right-handed Jiwanjot Singh of Punjab will be the batsman to look forward to in the Ranji Trophy semifinals (source – thehindu.com)

Services v Mumbai at Delhi

  The Services have an opportunity to create another upset, following their showing in the quarterfinal. This time, they will be playing in the comforts of their home ground at Palam in Delhi. Their gutsy match-winning captain Soumik Chatterjee is set to miss the semi-final due to the knee injury he suffered in that game, but surely Services will go all out, considering the pressure to perform will be more on the 39-times champions Mumbai. Mumbai will have the big guns like Sachin Tendulkar, Wasim Jaffer, Zaheer Khan and Ajit Agarkar in their ranks, and start as overwhelming favourites. As much as I want Services to win this one, there is no doubt that to challenge Mumbai, they will need someone to put up as inspiring a performance as Chatterjee displayed in the quarterfinal. 

Players To Watch Out For

  Jiwanjot Singh started his first class career by scoring 213 against Hyderabad two months back, and he has since been one of the most consistent performers this season. With a brilliant conversion rate (5 hundreds and 1 fifty in 9 games), Punjab will hugely bank on this youngster to deliver the goods again, more so on a flat pitch. Services’ paceman Suraj Yadav has had an impressive run of late, and he seems to be improving with every game, as his 7-wicket haul in the quarterfinal proved. With 23 sticks in the last 3 matches, Yadav is one man who can pose a threat to the highly experienced Mumbai batting line-up. 

Prediction

  Saurashtra would have been my potential final entrants had it not been for the absence of Jadeja and Pujara. So Punjab hold the edge here, due to a more complete bowling unit. In the second semifinal, Mumbai are expected to come up trumps in spite of the ‘giant-killer’ threat that the Services possess. Thus, I foresee a Mumbai v Punjab finale this season.