Ranji Trophy: Jammu and Kashmir take giant stride after small steps

Just this September, the north Indian state was plagued by floods that took its toll on the cricketing fraternity.

Written by Shahid Judge | Mumbai | Updated: December 11, 2014 8:04 am
JNK_M J&K players pose after their four-wicket win at the Wankhede Stadium on Wednesday. (Source: Express photo by Kevin D’Souza)

No one jumped around. No stumps were uprooted for souvenirs. No one from the dressing room charged out maniacally. As if, someone had forgotten to tell Jammu & Kashmir players that they had just beaten the 40-time Ranji champions. Even during the chase, the nerves were supposed to jangle, a sense of claustrophobia was to set in and a mental freeze was to occur. Nothing like that transpired and J&K’s quiet celebration told its own tale about the decline in Mumbai cricket and the spirit of J&K.

Sure, there were little big moments near the end of the chase that Mumbai would have seized in the past but this team couldn’t. One such moment came near the end. 21 to win, just four wickets in hand, and the fresh memory of J&K losing their last five wickets in just three overs in the first innings.

And Mumbai’s Shardul Thakur tried to snarl and bite. Hardeep Singh was on 28 then, and looking a touch nervy. He swayed away from a bouncer and words were exchanged. The follow-up was a fuller delivery and Hardeep edged his drive. But there was no slip. As if Mumbai didn’t think they could prise out a genuine dismissal like that. A man moved in to the first slip and two balls later, Obaid Haroon pushed out, edging a length delivery.

But the ball flew through the untenanted second slip this time for another boundary. The hosts tried but the lack of fielders in catching positions suggested that the effort lacked the conviction that they can pull it off and the visitors chugged along to history. More than the six points they got from the win it was the morale boosting fact that they beat a 40-time champion that will stand them in good stead. Especially, considering the chain of circumstances the J&K squad has been witness to.

Flood trauma 

Just this September, the north Indian state was plagued by floods that took its toll on the cricketing fraternity of the region. “There was no cricket for a month because many of the grounds were closed and some of the players were fighting for their lives. They had no food or water for six days,” recalls captain Parvez Rasool. Refuge for the Ranji team was eventually found in Nagpur where a 15-day camp was all that was available to get their line-ups and strategies in place, not to mention the fine tuning in individual player technique. This was in contrast to the infrastructural abundance the Mumbai roster has been subject to, the crown of which is the Wankhede Stadium. And it was at that very arena that the two teams met for the first time. Tales of Mumbai’s dominance had often been told and, to a certain extent, was dreaded in the J&K ranks.

Head coach Sunil Joshi, who took over this season, was familiar with the hosts’ reputation. Yet on this occasion, without taking anything away from his own team, Joshi claims Mumbai was a shadow of the team that was once feared. “I’ve seen the Mumbai team for over 20 years, and till date, this was the worst performance they have come up with,” he says.

As for his own team, the 44-year-old had praise for the bowlers and fielders while acknowledging more work needed in the batting department.

Interestingly enough, it was a batsman who set J&K on its way to reaching the 237-target. Opener Shubham Khajuria continued his calculated counter attack against Mumbai, steadily extending his overnight score of 34 into something substantial. The 19-year-old proved to be the crux of the run chase, scoring 78. The knock came on the back of his maiden first-class ton, scored in the first innings, and for Rasool, the U-19 India international’s performance was what made the difference in the batting department. “We lacked an effective opener to give us a good start and a foundation. So we called him into the team and he has lived up to it,” says Rasool.

As surprising as the win was, it was not entirely unpredictable. J&K has been going through a decent run, having recently beaten Delhi in the Vijay Hazare Trophy. Mumbai, on the other hand, has been experiencing a period of transition — three debutants featured in the loss.

Nonetheless, the win begins the series of away games that will last the entire season for J&K. The situation in the state does not accommodate any home matches. But the players are used to it now. After all, life on the road had begun in September, at the time of the torrential rainfall. Right now, it’s raining success.

Brief scores: J&K 254 & 237/6 (S Khajuria 78; V Dabholkar 2/66) bt Mumbai 236 & 254 (S Yadav 115; R Dayal 5/76, U Nazir 4/49) by four wickets. Points: J&K 6, Mumbai 0.

Baroda shift focus to J&K

By-Devendra Pandey

Baroda: As Baroda’s Ranji Trophy game against Bengal ended in a draw, the hosts, who had conceded the first innings lead, went into a meeting. However, on the agenda was not a review of their season opener but the second match against Jammu and Kashmir. The upset at the Wankhede forced the Baroda team management, including coach Tushar Arothe, to shift their focus to the kind of pitch to prepare for the game against J&K, which begins in a fortnight.

For record, on the final day’s play here, Bengal captain Laxmi Ratan Shukla scored 105 while Baroda all-rounder Deepak Hooda took three wickets. Bengal were 55 for 4 one stage and with a lead of just 109 at that point, the game was still an open affair. However, Shukla ensured that the first-innings lead, which Bengal took would be the deciding factor in this game.

Progress report 

Jammu and Kashmir finished second in Group C last season, winning four of their eight games.

Goa was their first victim at Srinagar, then they beat Andhra at Anantapur, followed by Kerala and Assam, both at Jammu.

Just over a month ago, J&K beat a strong Delhi side in a Vijay Hazare Trophy match at Bilaspur, by two wickets.

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