If Tamil Nadu’s last season’s loss against Karnataka in the final of Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy was dramatically tense and heartbreaking, then this season’s win against Baroda was emphatically one-sided and comfortable.
Coming into the final, both teams had a perfect record with seven wins each in the tournament. Though, for Baroda, it could be said that their run to the final comprised of a few cliff-hangers, especially the quarterfinal against Haryana where they needed 15 runs off the last three balls of the game. On the other hand, Tamil Nadu’s journey had been fairly straightforward. They dominated their opponents throughout the competition. This pattern proved true for the championship-deciding game as well.
From the word go, things worked out favourably for Tamil Nadu. Playing four spinners on Sardar Patel Stadium’s dry, turning track, Dinesh Karthik would have wished to bowl first to sidestep the impact that dew would have made on the ball’s condition in the second innings.
Karthik had his wish fulfilled as he won the toss and opted to field. He extracted as much benefit as he possibly could have from his spinners who made life miserable for Baroda batters. Within the first 10 overs, the quartet of R. Sai Kishore, Baba Aparajith, Manimaran Siddharth, and Murugan Ashwin, had restricted Baroda to a meager score of 44 and sent six of their top-order batsmen, including the tournament’s second-highest scorer with 349 runs and Baroda’s captain, Kedar Devdhar, back to the dug-out. Amongst the two of them, Sai Kishore and Siddharth bowled 32 dot balls, took four wickets (all four of them going to the latter) and gave merely 31 runs from their combined eight overs.
Runs began to follow only when the grip of the spinners loosened and pace was introduced in the 11th over. Vishnu Solanki, who played perhaps the innings of the tournament as he took his side home against Haryana in the quarterfinals, once again came to his team’s rescue. His innings of 49, helped by Atit Sheth’s knock of 29, and Bhargav Bhatt’s cameo of 12* off 5 balls, pulled Baroda out of the pit in which they found themselves when the score was 36 for 6 and dragged them to a fightable score of 120.
The fact that Baroda managed to score 49 runs in the penultimate four overs of their innings gave rise to the expectation that they would enter the second innings on the front foot. But any such presumption was quickly buried by the confident start that the Tamil Nadu openers made. N Jagadeesan, the tournament’s top run-getter (364), along with his opening partner, Hari Nishanth, constantly latched on to or carved out run-making opportunities. The batsmen who followed them also continued in this manner.
Unlike Tamil Nadu, Baroda opened with their seam combination of Sheth and Lukman Meriwala. When the spinners were introduced, they couldn’t get the purchase off the surface similar to what the likes of Sai Kishore and Siddharth could get when they bowled, and hence, they didn’t make the desired impact. While Baroda’s spinners didn’t display the quality and discipline that their counterparts did, it must be noted that their situation wasn’t helped by the dew factor which made batting conditions easier as the ball started to come on to the bat, unlike in the first innings.
Despite all of that, the approach with which Baroda hit the field in the second innings was particularly disappointing. Taking wickets regularly was the only possible way for them to win the game. Yet, what transpired on the field highlighted a cautionary and middle-of-the-road approach. They never aggressively attacked the Tamil Nadu batters nor did they took any risks. Thus, their conservatism, along with better batting conditions, facilitated Tamil Nadu’s experienced batting line-up to conduct the run-chase with relative ease. Every batsman who got the chance played their part well. Because of their cumulative effort, Tamil Nadu broke their 13-year jinx and crossed the line in 18 overs as they clinched their second Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, becoming the fourth team after Baroda, Gujrat, and Karnataka to achieve this feat.