This time around Jamtha will witness a clash of two Team India stars — batsman Cheteshwar Pujara and paceman Umesh Yadav. Both in prime form in their respective departments and both hungry to be called champions when the final gets underway on Sunday.
Now, just a year later they are back and hungry to defend the crown. This time around they will host the final at home against Saurashtra, who have now reached the final for the third time in the last seven years.
The journey of the finalists has not been an easy one. A total of 37 teams competed in Ranji Trophy — the highest-ever in its history. Both teams were part of Group A and managed to qualify for the knockout although the odds were stacked up against them. Out of 18 teams in Groups A and B, only five were assured qualification for the quarters and incidentally four teams managed to qualify from Group A.
Vidarbha have been dominant in the knockout stage powered by the return of pace spearhead Umesh Yadav from national duty. Yadav’s arrival had immediate impact — nine wickets in quarterfinals against Uttarakhand and 12 wickets in semifinals against Kerala — to set up innings victories in both those games. With their display in the knockout phase, Vidarbha have looked every bit the champions that they are.
While Yadav has lifted the bowling attack, the batting has been shouldered by veteran Wasim Jaffer, who is aging like fine wine. The former Mumbai batsman has 1003 runs this season in 10 games with 4 hundreds and 2 fifties to top the batting charts for his team. Skipper Faiz Fazal has backed up Jaffer with 726 runs at an average of 55.84 with three hundreds and two fifties, including a crucial half-century on a tough track at Wayanad.
Youngsters Akshay Wadkar with the bat and all-rounder Aditya Sarwate have given the side the right blend of youth and experience.
The home side will host Saurashtra at Jamtha. The 2012-13 and 2015-16 runners-up have been buoyed by the addition of Pujara. Unlike Vidarbha, Saurashtra has had a tougher road into the final, chasing down tough totals in the fourth innings.
Saurashtra chased down a record 372-run target in the quarterfinals led by young opener Harvik Desai and Pujara giving finishing touches with Sheldon Jackson. Desai has scored consistently at the top of the order with 763 runs at an average of 40.15 while Jackson is once against topping the batting charts with 838 runs at an average 52.37.
Left-arm spinner Dharmendrasinh Jadeja has filled the void left by Ravindra Jadeja, claiming 52 wickets in the 10 games while skipper Jaydev Unadkat will be expected to be Saurashtra’s answer to Yadav. The left-arm seamer has picked up 35 wickets in 7 games at an average of 16.74.
When it comes to head-to-head record, Vidarbha have the edge only slightly leading 2-1 in the six encounters between the two sides. However, the defending champions would have the edge of playing in their own backyard at Jamtha after a group match between the two sides took place in Rajkot earlier this season.
The final is a contest between two evenly matched sides but Vidarbha appear to have the slight edge since they know what it means to win a final. Saurashtra, though, will look to shed their bridesmaid’s tag and hope they are third-time lucky in the final.
First Published: February 2, 2019, 1:04 PM IST