It was close to 5.30 pm at the Karnail Singh Stadium. This is usually the time when the stream of casual joggers from the adjoining Railway colony begins to trickle in. On Tuesday, they waited patiently just beyond the boundary rope. The final few overs of the thrilling Railways vs Madhya Pradesh Ranji Trophy encounter was in progress. Out in the middle, Dinesh Mor and Harsh Tyagi, two ticket examiners, were trying their best to get the Railways past the finish line.
In pursuit of 211 on the final day, the home team were 205/5, when the umpires — Khalidhussen A Saiyed and Rajeev Godara — fished out the light meter and declared that the game was over. The match ended in a stalemate and the Railways walked away with three points, courtesy their 120-run first-innings lead.
Despite their best efforts, Railways would feel extremely aggrieved for not being able to knock off those remaining six runs and pocket those three extra points that were on offer. They had five wickets in hand with two relatively in-form unbeaten batsmen at the crease. In the end, it was the age-old time-wasting tactics employed by Madhya Pradesh fielders — they bowled just 8 overs in the final hour’s play — that played a part. Railways, on the other hand, also paid dearly for their diffident batting approach.
Madhya Pradesh clearly held the edge, coming into the final day’s play, having garnered a comfortable 188-run lead. Once Amit Mishra got rid of overnight batsman Yash Dubey for 83, the rest of the batting just folded up without an ounce of fight. From 306/5, the visitors slumped to 330/9 when captain Naman Ojha declared after having earned a 210-run lead. In reply, Railways had a shade over two sessions to knock of that target, and despite the early loss of opener Pratham Singh, they were off to a promising start, thanks to Mrunal Devdhar and Vikrant Singh. The 103-run second-wicket alliance gave them hope. Even the twin dismissals of Singh and captain Arindam Ghosh still kept them in the hunt.
At the tea interval, the talk in the Railways dressing room was about conserving wickets. They banked on Devdhar to get them closer to the target. That was not to be. Once the opener was dismissed for 93, Railways were still 64 runs adrift. Debutant Saurabh Singh failed to provide an impetus, consuming 63 deliveries for his 15 runs. This left Mor and Tyagi with a lot on their plate. They ran hard between the wickets, struck a couple of neatly struck boundaries, and added 29 runs in the last 23 deliveries.
“If we had got just another over, we would have won this match,” Railways coach Harvinder Singh said after the match, before adding: “The score was not difficult to chase down. If we had a more experienced batting line-up, we would have won pretty convincingly. But you also have to understand that this team is still fairly young. Our immediate task was to keep wickets in hand. Because you never know, you lose a couple of wickets and suddenly, you are down to the tail,” he explained.
Perhaps, the Railways missed the trick by not promoting Mor, their in-form batsman up the order. In the process, Singh’s lacklustre knock only negated their chances of a win. “I will not blame him (Saurabh Singh). He is playing his first match and we thought that if we keep wickets in hand and even if we have around 40 runs to win from six overs, we would have a dash at the target. But that would not be the case, as Madhya Pradesh scuttled our plans by their tactics. We are not complaining…even we would have done the same if we were in their place,” Singh opined.
Batting an issue
Batting has been an issue for the Railways in this season so far. Their pace trio comprising Amit Mishra, Pradeep Poojar and Himanshu Sangwan together have accounted for 67 of the 82 scalps in the five matches, giving them a sniff at victory on several occasions. It was the match against Mumbai at the Wankhede Stadium more than a fortnight ago when their batting and bowling were in sync. In the previous game, their pacers had shot out Baroda for 99 in the second innings. Requiring 200 for a win, their batsmen imploded for just 101.
“We have got three points, but I think this draw is going to hurt us with regard to the knockouts qualification. From these two consecutive games, we could have got 12 points, instead, we have managed just three,” Singh quipped. They have an arduous road ahead. Up next, they face Tamil Nadu away, following which they play Karnataka at home later this month.
Brief Scores: Madhya Pradesh 124 and 330/9 declared a draw with Railways 244 and 205/5 (Mrunal Devdhar 93, Avesh Khan 3/49). Points: Railways 3; Madhya Pradesh 1.