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Vol. XXX No. 21, March 1-15, 2021

When TN’s long wait for the Ranji Trophy ended

by Partab Ramchand

The Tamil Nadu team that had won the Ranji Trophy after a gap of 33 years. Standing: M. Venkatramana, B. Arun, V. Sivaramakrishnan, S. Venkatraghavan (TNCA Secretary), S. Vasudevan (Captain), L. Sivaramakrishnan, D. Girish, V.B. Chandrasekhar and D. Vasu. Kneeling: N. Gautam, P.C. Prakash, K. Arun Kumar, M. Senthilnathan, R. Venkatesh, Robin Singh, and U.R. Radhakrishnan. – Courtesy: The Hindu archives.

Thirty three years ago on March 30 1988 I saw something that I thought I would never see in my life. I saw Tamil Nadu win the Ranji Trophy.

Yes, out there in the middle at the MAC stadium S. Vasudevan the acting captain in the absence of appointed captain K. Srikkanth who was away in Sharjah on national duty received the trophy that almost every cricket follower in the state had accepted would never come back again.

So how did this unthinkable feat come about? Certainly on the eve of the 1987-88 season there was nothing to suggest that this would be Tamil Nadu’s year. On the contrary those following the fortunes of the state team over the years had virtually conceded that Tamil Nadu would never again win the Ranji Trophy to add to their solitary success of 1954-55 when as Madras they had defeated Holkar in the final at Indore. In fact the joke doing the rounds for long was that the only way Tamil Nadu would get the Ranji Trophy was to steal it!

Time and again the state team had raised the hopes of cricket fans only to bring them down to earth with a sickening thud. Since that one success they had made the title round in 1967-68 and 1972-73 only to lose to Mumbai (then Bombay) both times. Of course a place in the knock out rounds was not always guaranteed with Karnataka (then Mysore) and Hyderabad in the south zone. But every time they made it to the knock out stage they came a cropper against Bombay or Delhi. Till 1987 the record against Bombay read: played twelve, lost twelve and against Delhi it was played five, lost five.

Tamil Nadu’s performance at the league stage in 1987-88 was par for the course. Three wins, a loss and a draw saw them topping the table pushing Karnataka to second spot. And when it came to the knock out rounds Tamil Nadu had more than a fair share of good fortune. In the first place Bombay defeated Karnataka in the pre quarter-final to remove one of Tamil Nadu’s main challengers. Delhi beating Bombay in the quarterfinal made it that much easier for Tamil Nadu who in the meantime made the final with victories over Uttar Pradesh in the quarterfinal and Punjab in the penultimate round. But their real stroke of good fortune came about when Railways got the better of Delhi narrowly on the run quotient rule then prevalent after rain ruined their semifinal.

With both their bugbear teams knocked out Tamil Nadu were now clear favorites against Railways in the title round and this time they did not let down their supporters. In fact they won the five-day match by an innings and 144 runs dismissing their opponents for 317 and 248 and notching up their highest-ever Ranji total – a small matter of 709 all out. The one jarring note in the triumphant moment was the smallness of the crowd – there were hardly 300 spectators at the stadium to savour the scene of Vasudevan receiving the trophy that Tamil Nadu had waited for 33 long years. But the spectators did see a touching scene for after receiving the trophy Vasudevan handed it over to S. Venkatraghavan. Then the TNCA secretary Venkat as player and captain had tried very hard for so many years for Tamil Nadu to win the Ranji Trophy but in vain.

As for the good fortune factor in not having to face either Delhi or Bombay on their way to their title triumph Vasudevan summed it up in a TV interview after the final when he said that the team was so high on confidence that they would have beaten both teams. In any case the victory was rewarded by national recognition for within about a year V.B. Chandrasekhar, M. Venkatramana and Robin Singh who all played leading roles in the unexpected triumph were representing the country alongside the regular India players Srikkanth and W.V. Raman.

Over the last three decades and more Tamil Nadu’s best has been to make the title clash as many as six times but they have faltered at this final hurdle, losing at home and away and going down to Delhi, Karnataka (twice), Mumbai (twice) and Rajasthan. The result is that there is a new joke doing the rounds that Tamil Nadu wins the Ranji Trophy every 33 years. In that case 2020-21 should have been the season to look out for but as fate would have it the competition was not held for the first time since its inception in 1934-35.

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