The first days play in the last round of league matches this Ranji season have seen a flurry of wickets fall. The most extreme matches,however,have been the Group B game at Chepauk featuring Bengal and Tamil Nadu which has seen 16 wickets fall,while another Group B match between Saurashtra and Services at Rajkot has had a 19-wicket day. In the latter game,spinners have picked 17 wickets including 8 by two part timers from the Services team.
Both games have something in common they are must win games for the home team. Both sides in the TN-Bengal match need an outright win to reach the knock out stage. Saurashtra too,desperately require an outright win with a bonus point to boost their own chances of going through.
In group C as well,12 wickets have fallen in Porvorim where hosts Goa need to beat Andhra Pradesh to have a realistic chance of going through.
This isnt all that unusual. For all the chatter about sporting wickets that curators indulge in at the start of the season,the desperation for a result has the home team tweak the advantage in,what is hopefully,their favour. The result need not only be to qualify for the next stage but even to get out of the relegation zone.
In the 2010/11 season,Saurashtra needed to beat Assam at Rajkot to stay in the Elite Group. On a ground where scores of 582/4d,30/1,492,354/9d,194/2,415,107/6,338,423 and 569/7 had been piled up,Saurashtra beat Assam in a game which featured scores of 140,235,127 and 76.
The Rajkot pitch hasnt been as bountiful this season,featuring scores of 475/7 declared,136,308,632/7 declared,51/0,353, 400,265/9 declared,311 and 115. Even so,Mondays scores of 72 and 176/9 are indeed unprecedented.
However,while competing on pitches that play to your strengths isnt always a poor strategy,the ploy can backfire. At Chennai,TN may have bowled out Bengal for 130 but are struggling on 66/6 themselves.
Of course,the worst case scenario may be what happened to Railways in their last league match of the 2011/12 season where they needed a win to make the knock-outs. Hosting Saurashtra at the Karnail Singh Stadium,they lost the match inside three days on a pitch where 175 was the highest team total.
It was an all-or-nothing last throw of dice,a gamble taken by a desperate team. It certainly wasnt cricket. Railways then suffered the indignity of having their home ground banned for the next season due to poor pitch conditions. The pitches for this seasons last league games too need to put under the microscope.
Jonathan is a senior correspondent based in New Delhi.
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