After dominating the limited-overs tournaments (Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 champion, Vijay Hazare Trophy finalist), it was a familiar script for Tamil Nadu in the Ranji Trophy as it failed to make it past the group stage for the fourth straight season. Its campaign ended after a two-wicket loss to Jharkhand on Sunday.
With TN playing two of its three matches at the Nehru Stadium in Guwahati in conditions similar to the one in Chennai, there was an immense belief that the team could get at least one outright result.
Instead, the age-old problem – lack of bowling depth, especially in the pace department, and one poor batting effort (second innings vs Jharkhand) cost the team dear.
In the first two matches, most batters stepped up at different times. Vice-captain B. Indrajith was unstoppable, scoring three centuries and a fifty. B. Aparajith and M. Shahrukh Khan, too, slammed crucial hundreds.
However, in the final game, barring Indrajith and Sai Kishore, no batter stood up against a quality Jharkhand attack. The openers were clearly rattled by the high-quality pace of Rahul Shukla.
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Skipper Vijay Shankar was a major disappointment this season, making just 44 runs in four visits to the crease, while N. Jagadeesan failed to convert starts and was involved in soft dismissals in both innings against Jharkhand.
A 59-run lead was worth its weight in gold on a challenging pitch, but being bowled out for 152 in the second essay undid all the good work and cost the Jharkhand match.
The other issue that pegged the team back was its over-reliance on the spinners.
Left-arm tweakers Sai Kishore and M. Siddharth, who finished with 11 wickets each, could have been a bit more aggressive in the last two matches and should have defended 212 in the fourth innings against Saurabh Tiwary’s Jharkhand.
Though the pitches in the first two games did not suit the pacers, Sandeep Warrier and M. Mohammed had it in them to snare the last two wickets. From 208 for eight, it took more than 50 overs to mop up the Chhattisgarh innings.
The cascading effect of time lost in the first innings meant that the side did not have enough overs to bowl Chhattisgarh out twice despite enforcing the follow-on.
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It is here that Vijay Shankar’s men missed a fast bowler, one who could have ran through the tail.
In hindsight, TN could have tried out someone like Aswin Crist, who is a frontline pacer, to partner Warrier even if it meant sacrificing the runs from Mohammed’s bat in the do-or-die battle against Jharkhand.
Though this season was the closest it came to qualifying in four years – perhaps helped by the truncated program – TN lacked the killer instinct and let things drift away in all three matches.
The wait for a third crown – after the triumphs in 1954-55, and 1987-88 – in the most prestigious domestic competition continues. Maybe it’s time to focus a lot more on the Ranji Trophy.