Back in June 2012, BCCI’s technical committee headed by former Indian skipper Sourav Ganguly recommended a host of structural changes to the Ranji Trophy, India’s premier first-class tournament, by doing away with the existing Elite and Plate divisions and rearranging the 27 teams into three groups of nine each.
The key changes that were a part of a new revised format included
- 27 teams contesting in 3 equal groups (A, B & C)
- Each team will get to play at least 8 league games before the axe falls
- All Knock-out games including the Quarters & Semis be a 5 day affair
- Outright wins to get 6 instead of 5 points to motivate teams to get that extra point
- Major emphasis on producing good quality pitches
- 3 teams from Group A & B (better groups) each and 2 teams from Group C (group of low ranking teams) to advance to Quarter Finals
- Bottom placed team from Group A & B each to be relegated to Group C & similarly, two Top teams from Group C to be promoted to Group A & B
This was a major revamp after 2002-03 season when the Zonal System was replaced by Elite and Plate divisions.
In the 2011-12 Ranji Trophy season, a young Maharashtra team was placed in the Plate Division, and after topping the Plate Group B, and defeating Himachal Pradesh in the Knock-out stage, reached the Quarter Finals, where it bowed out to a formidable Tamil Nadu side. The average age of the side that lost to Tamil Nadu then, was 23.5 years. As Maharashtra had topped the group & had gone on to win the Knock-out playoff, they received a berth in the Group B (a better group as explained above) for the 2012-13 season.
In the 2011-12 Ranji Trophy season, all the teams that Maharashtra defeated were Plate Division teams, so the teams in Group B were better than Maharashtra, resulting in Maharashtra becoming the bottom most team in 2012-13 season and eventually relegating to Group C for the 2013-14 season.
History repeated itself in 2013-14 season, and just like couple of years before, Maharashtra again topped the Group C to enter Quarter Finals. This time around, in the Quarters against a formidable Mumbai side captained by Zaheer Khan with experienced cricketers like Wasim Jaffer, Maharashtra overturned the first innings deficit of 122 runs, & after bundling out Mumbai for a paltry 129 went on to win the tie by scoring the required 250 odd runs at the loss of just 2 wickets with a brilliant unbeaten partnership of 215 runs by Vijay Zol (91*) and Kedar Jadhav (120*). In the Semi Finals, Maharashtra defeated Bengal thanks to brilliant bowling by Samad Fallah (7/58 in 1st innings & 10 wickets haul in the match) and equally awesome batting by Sangram Atitkar (168 in 1st innings) to reach the finals after 21 long years. In the Finals, Maharashtra was unlucky to have encountered a very good Karnataka side which included talented players like Robin Uthappa, Lokesh Rahul, Manish Pandey, Abhimanyu Mithun & Vinay Kumar which made the tie a one sided affair by their brilliant performances.
So from Group C, Maharashtra was once again placed in a higher group, Group B for 2014-15 season. It was again expected by many, that Maharashtra will once again be the bottom most team in Group B and be relegated to Group C, wherein they will again top the group of lower ranked teams in 2015-16 season and challenge for the Quarter Finals.
But this time around, Maharashtra played good cricket in their group phase & went on to qualify for the Quarters from Group B itself. They were pitched against Andhra team, and the place in Semi Finals seemed a certainty.
On the first day itself, when I started to write this blog, Maharashtra won the toss, elected to bat on a green top & and were bundled out for a paltry 91 runs. At the end of first day, Andhra managed to make 87 runs for loss of just 3 wickets, and it meant an uphill task for Maharashtra with things not looking very good. Andhra had an upper hand in the encounter & a comeback was required from Maharashtra players. And Maharashtra’s pace attack of Samad Fallah, Anupam Sanklecha & Domnic Joseph delivered & did the trick on 2nd day and polished the remaining 7 wickets for a meagre 51 runs & restricted the lead to 47 runs. In the second innings, Harshad Khadiwale (47), Kedar Jadhav (81) & Rahul Tripathi (43) ensured that they get a few runs on board (223 to be exact) & have a respectable total to defend for the bowlers. Siva Kumar from Andhra excelled as he took six wickets in both the innings restricting Maharashtra’s score in second innings as well. Requiring 177 runs to win in the second innings, Andhra’s batting didn’t click, and after loosing wickets at regular intervals, their innings folded for 101 runs. Maharashtra’s pace attack of Samad Fallah, Anupam Sanklecha, Domnic Joseph & Shrikant Mundhe ensured that Maharashtra won the match by 75 runs.
Maharashtra’s team after winning the Quarter Final game against Andhra
Maharashtra will most probably meeting Tamil Nadu in the Semi Finals which will be played from 25th February to 1st March 2015.
So Kudos to Maharashtra team for securing yet another Semi Final berth.