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Sandip G writes: Why the underdog story of Madhya Pradesh beating Mumbai in Ranji Trophy is the perfect metaphor for the tournament

Sandip G writes: The Ranji Trophy is the ultimate survivor, which may live as long as Indian cricket itself. But it is remembered only when a truly spectacular event occurs, or when there is an underdog story to be told.

Madhya Pradesh's win once again proved that the Ranji Trophy is often won by sides which don't have too many superstars or India prospects with ambition or wherewithal to play top-flight cricket. (PTI Photo)

The number of cricketers from Madhya Pradesh who have played for India — though the list includes luminaries like CK Nayudu and Syed Mushtaq Ali — cannot comprise a full team. It falls one short of 11. So Madhya Pradesh upstaging Mumbai — record Ranji Trophy winners and the team that can field multiple international elevens — for the maiden Ranji Trophy title is a heart-warming underdog story, scripted without star talent, or years of accumulated knowhow, but starring a genial old coach from Mumbai and his motley gang of rejects, unknowns and never-weres.

It’s a story of hope and optimism, an example of how hard work, planning and courage could overcome a dearth of twinkling talent. Yet, it’s a story that you could soon forget, as you had forgotten the fairy-tale narratives of Vidarbha, Gujarat and Saurashtra in the last six years. It’s no fault of yours — there is a deluge of cricketing fixtures around the world, far more glamorous and exciting than what unfurled in Bengaluru. There was Jasprit Bumrah and Virat Kolhi duelling, perhaps for the first time in a red-ball game in a warm-up game in Leicester; there are Brendon McCullum’s red-ball radicals engaged in a seesaw tussle with Trent Boult’s swing and seam heavy-metal chords; a closely-fought white-ball series just ended in Sri Lanka. Not to forget, it’s not even a month since the IPL final. And before you have the time to catch your breath, the T20 World Cup would blast through the windows of your drawing room.

You consume more than you could remember. It’s normal for the brain to eliminate what is more forgettable. Let’s strip that veneer of pretence— Ranji Trophy, the premier domestic tournament in name, doesn’t occupy as much space in our cricketing consciousness as other tournaments. It’s not on your list of unmissables — you don’t bunk classes or skip office hours so that you could watch Madhya Pradesh take on Mumbai. You watch if you have time — if there is nothing else on.

It is not part of the national conversation or debates, unless you’re a red-ball cricket fanatic, it does not create any buzz. The year before, when the edition was scrapped altogether due to the pandemic, Star Sports did not bang down the doors of the Board, demanding it is played at all costs. Unlike the invincible IPL— not the pandemic, not polls, not a recession, perhaps not even war, has powers to stop it.

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But the Ranji Trophy exists, providing a background hum to a busy season, quietly developing the next generation of international players, sometimes acting as a retreat for out-of-form international players and providing a vast canvas to players from every corner of the country. The net the Ranji Trophy casts is three times wider than the IPL or any other tournament, now that the Northeastern states are also involved. A total of 38 teams competed in the tournament this year, and almost 750 different players. For the national team, it’s a more robust and enduring supply chain than the IPL.

MP coach Chandrakant Pandit and captain Aditya Shrivastava on Sunday. (Photo: PTI)

Yet, in a painful irony, the road to stardom is easier through the IPL. To tweak that old Vinod Kambli quote, “IPL stars take the elevator while domestic cricketers take the stairs.” Whereas Umran Malik became a household name overnight, Mayank Agarwal had to rack up more than 2,000 runs a season to become half as famous. Only a few would remember Shams Mulani or Kumar Kartikeya, the highest and second-highest wicket-takers this season.

The IPL is not to blame for the unglamorousness of the Ranji Trophy. It is a reflection of the altered cricketing milieu and its values. It’s the same in England and Australia, where the 100 and BBL have pushed the County championship and Shield to the background. Domestic tournaments have become truly domestic in that international players barely feature in them. That Bumrah and Kohli have never encountered each other in a red-ball, first class game tells the story.

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None of this, though, will threaten the existence of the Ranji Trophy. It is the ultimate survivor that might live as long as Indian cricket itself. But it might be remembered only when a truly spectacular event occurs, or when there is an underdog story to be told. Such stories befit the tournament — underdog tales from an underdog tournament.

Write to the author at sandip.gopal@expressindia.com

First published on: 27-06-2022 at 07:14:11 pm
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