Rest of India batsmen displayed collective brilliance as they planned a classic run-chase to perfection against Ranji Trophy champions Mumbai, winning the Irani Cup by 4 wickets reaching a mammoth victory target of 480 runs, in Mumabi on Thursday.
Vidarbha’s left-handed opener Faiz Fazal (127, 280 balls) and Sudeep Chatterjee (54) of Bengal held the innings together for the first part while Karun Nair (92, 132 balls), Stuart Binny (54 off 51 balls), Sheldon Jackson (59 no) pounced on the opportunity to pulverise a below-par bowling attack taking the team to victory in 129.4 overs.
Starting the day at 100 for 1 and needing 380 more runs on the final day to achieve the third-highest successful run-chase in Indian first class cricket history, Rest achieved the target with 20 balls to spare.
Fazal led the way at the top of the order with a patient 127, his 11th first class hundred, in 280 balls with 10 fours, besides featuring in two century stands – 110 for the second wicket with Chatterjee and 130 for the 3rd wicket with Nair, who hit seven boundaries. It was Nair, who got the man-of-the-match award for scoring pair of 90’s.
Though Mumbai fought back with left-arm spinner Iqbal Abdullah (5/154) striking thrice in quick time to pack off this trio of batsmen, and captain Naman Ojha (29) was run out brilliantly, Rest had enough quality batsmen – especially the hard-hitting Binny – to overhaul the stiff target from their tea score of 321 for 3.
They needed 159 from 35 overs in the final session and achieved their goal, the final charge after being enabled by the partnership of 92 runs in 101 balls and 56 minutes for the sixth wicket between Karnataka’s Binny and Saurashtra’s Sheldon Jackson.
Binny, who struck two towering sixes – including one into the press box on the second storey of the club house – and also hit three fours, fell when Rest needed 35 runs, caught cutting Abdullah at point.
But Rest were far ahead in their quest and succeeded in denying Mumbai any additional silverware for the season and also prevented the 41-time Ranji champions from lifting the Irani title for the 16th occasion and the first since 1997-98.
Jackson, who remained unbeaten after facing 76 balls and striking four fours and a six, and Jayant Yadav (19 not out) helped the Rest cross the finish line with ease in the end, the former also fittingly hitting the winning shot – a four. Their unconquered seventh wicket partnership was worth 37 runs.
The Rest batsmen’s exploits on the final day thoroughly exposed the lack of sting in the Mumbai bowling attack on a Brabourne Stadium track, which had become a true batsmen’s paradise over the last two days.
Abdullah was the most successful bowler with a five-for but he lacked adequate spin support. Mumbai were also let down by their trio of medium pacers – Dhawal Kulkarni, Shardul Thakur and Balwinder Singh Sandhu –who, looked pedestrian and spoilt Mumbai’s huge 297-run first innings advantage.
The successful run-chase was also the third-highest in the Indian domestic first class history.
The highest remains West Zone’s incredible chase of 536 riding on Yusuf Pathan’s 210 in the 2010 Duleep Trophy final at Hyderabad followed by South Zone’s successful chase of 501 on the back of Venugopal Rao’s 228 and centuries from S Sriram and S Badrinath in a Duleep league game at Gurgaon in 2004.
Thursday’s successful chase was also the best-ever run-chase in the Irani history, bettering Rest’s 424 chasing 421 set by Delhi at the Ferozshah Kotla in 1982-83 though that chase was achieved in two and a half sessions on the last day.
Fazal later said that the team would have preferred to have added 20 more runs last evening itself.
“We wanted to score 20 more runs last evening but the good thing was that we had nine wickets in hand to chase down the runs today,” said the Nagpur-based player, who has also played first-class cricket for the Railways.
“The aim was to get 3 or 4 runs per over and we did it when I batted with Sudeep first and then with Karun as we knew we had hard-hitting batsmen like Stuart and Sheldon to follow,” he added.
A visibly disappointed Mumbai coach Chandrakant Pandit admitted that the team lacked an effective frontline spinner to compliment the efforts of Abdullah.
“We thought Jay Bista would bowl well to exploit the fifth day track. All through the season we have depended a lot on the pacers to get the wickets. But credit to the Rest batsmen. They batted well,” he said.
The former India stumper also said that nowadays the tail-enders too are prepared to bat for long and said the 91-run stand put up by the Rest by man of the match Nair (94), in the company of speedster Jaydev Unadkat (48) in the first innings, was a crucial game-changer.
The stand enabled Rest to recover from 201 for 7 to post a more competitive first innings reply to Mumbai’s tall score of 603.
Brief scores: Mumbai 603 and 182 lost to Rest of India 306 and 482 for 6 (Faiz Fazal 127, K S Bharat 42, S Chatterjee 54, K Nair 92, S Jackson not out 59, S Binny 54, J Yadav not out 19; I Abdullah 5 for 154) by four wickets.