An enthralling Ranji season is headed for a fitting conclusion as Vidarbha, deemed to be underdogs, and Delhi, said to be the perennial underperformers, will play the final starting on Friday at the Holkar Stadium in Indore.
Both teams have had a memorable campaign this year as they defied all odds to reach the finals after years of anonymity. This is Vidarbha’s first-ever appearance in the summit clash of country's most revered domestic competition. For Delhi, it is more of a redemption as they have reached their first final in 10 years — the 2007-08 season was the last they played the final.
It has been a fairytale journey for Vidarbha, who kicked off their season with an innings-and-117-run win that earned them seven points. It was Akshay Karnewar’s spell of 6/47 in the third innings and centuries from Sanjay Ramaswamy (161) and Ganesh Satish (164) that powered them to the emphatic victory.
And that was exactly the kind of victory that gave them momentum for rest of the tournament. Although they had romped to impressive wins over Kerala (by 412 runs in the quarter-final), Services (by 192 runs), Goa (by an innings and 37 runs), it was against powerhouses such as Bengal in the group stages and Karnataka in the semi-final that they churned out memorable performances.
They dominated Bengal throughout the match and sailed to a 10-wicket win. Against Karnataka, they held their nerve to seal the thrilling encounter by five runs. That victory against Karnataka turned out to be their best moment in the tournament and made every one realise that for the first time in their 60-year history, Vidarbha have a real chance of claiming the title.
On the other hand, the main highlight of Delhi’s road to the final is their quarter-final win over Maharashtra by an innings and 61 runs. Although they started their campaign with a dull draw against Assam, Delhi returned to winning ways with with back-to-back victories against Railways and Uttar Pradesh.
Unlike Vidarbha, Delhi romped to a comfortable seven-wicket win in the semi-final against Madhya Pradesh as Gautam Gambhir starred with a gritty 95 in the second innings.
By contrast, Vidarbha’s season hasn't been characterised by one stand-out performer. Their success is a result of some fabulous teamwork and crucial contributions from every team member. Skipper Faiz Fazal, opening batsman Ramaswamy, middle-order batsman Satish, and veteran batsman Wasim Jaffer will be some of the names from Vidarbha to look forward to in the final.
Fazal has been their highest run-getter in this season, scoring 835 runs in eight matches at an average of 76.63, including five centuries. Players like Ramaswamy (735 runs in eight matches) and Satish (626 runs) have also made their mark, being the second and third-highest run-getters in the team. Jaffer has also made his valuable experience count, contributing 500 runs to their campaign as well.
In the bowling department, fast bowler Rajneesh Gurbani and spinners Akshay Wakhare and Aditya Sarwaate have impressed, and onus, once again, would be on them to deliver.
Gurbani, in particular, has been mighty impressive, having claimed 31 wickets from five matches at an average of 16.67. It also includes his 7/68 in the semi-final that powered Vidarbha to a thrilling five-run victory over a powerhouse like Karnataka.
Akshay Wakhare (29 wickets in 7 matches at 21.06) and Aditya Sarwaate (26 wickets in 5 matches at 15.11) can also make the ball talk with their spin, skill and guile. They will make sure Delhi has no respite after negotiating Gurbani early in their innings.
As far as Delhi are concerned, Gautam Gambhir and Nitish Rana have been the two most consistent batsmen for them. And they will surely want to carry their form into the final. Gambhir is Delhi’s highest scorer this season with 632 runs to his name at an average of 63.20 that includes 3 centuries and 2 half-centuries. His tally is followed by Rana who has amassed 528 runs at 58.66 with two centuries and as many fifties.
On the bowling front, Delhi will once again look up to the wicket-taking abilities of their slow-left arm orthodox spinner Vikas Mishra and pacer Navdeep Saini. Mishra is their most successful bowler this season with 32 scalps in six matches at 21.50, while Saini is just behind with 29 wickets from seven matches at an average of 22.00.
Both teams will, however, miss their star bowlers in the all-important match. Vidarbha will be without Umesh Yadav, while Delhi will lack Ishant Sharma’s experience.
The differences between the performances of the two skippers is also something to look forward to. Delhi have a young captain in Rishabh Pant while Vidarbha is being led by the experienced veteran Faiz Fazal.
While Fazal has been in terrific form — he is the second highest scorer in the tournament — Pant hasn't had the best of times with the bat as he is not even among the top run-getters in his team. Recent performances notwithstanding, how the two skippers perform and lead will be a major factor in determining the outcome of the contest.
On form, with 75% win record this season as compared to just 15% in their entire Ranji history, Vidarbha certainly look favourites. Delhi haven't had as smooth ride, but they have a stronger team on paper and certainly showed their potential with a commanding victory in the semi-final over Madhya Pradesh. If they can get their act together, they have a good chance of disrupting Vidarbha’s fairytale.
Whatever the result, a cracking contest is on the cards. Whoever emerges victorious, this season of Ranji Trophy will be remembered for years to come.