Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXXII No. 23, March 16-31, 2023
Exactly fifty years ago Tamil Nadu pulled off a truly glorious victory in the Ranji Trophy. Glorious because it was totally unexpected, achieved as it was against formidable opponents who were considered too strong and with the added benefit of home advantage. But displaying a never say attitude under the inspiring leadership of S. Venkatraghavan, the team shocked Maharashtra in the semifinal at Pune (then Poona) to make it to the title round for the first time since 1967-68.
During the league stage Maharashtra was unstoppable in the West Zone. They had defeated Baroda and Gujarat by an innings, had got the better of Saurashtra by nine wickets and had even taken first innings points against Bombay to top the table. Their dominance was even more pronounced in the knock out stage when they crushed Vidarbha by an innings and 157 runs in the pre quarterfinal and then stormed into the semifinal with a nine wicket win over Bengal. While their bowling was pretty strong, it was the batting that was Maharashtra’s trump card. This was best symbolized by the 405-run first wicket partnership shared by Chetan Chauhan and Madhu Gupte against Vidarbha, which was a new Ranji Trophy record. In the process the featherbed pitch at Pune became their fortress and they notched up three successive victories at the venue on their way to the semifinal.
Tamil Nadu too had performed creditably on their way to topping the South Zone table. They conceded first innings points to Hyderabad but innings victories over Kerala and Andhra along with a meritorious victory over Mysore (now Karnataka) saw them make the knock out rounds with confidence. In the quarterfinal they got the better of Railways in a low scoring game at Chepauk by 110 runs thus booking their passage to Pune for a clash with Maharashtra.
The problem with Tamil Nadu however was their batting. Time and again, it failed leaving the spin duo of Venkatraghavan and V.V. Kumar to bail them out. Given Maharashtra’s batting might it was thought that even Venkat and Kumar would be up against it unless the batting came good. On the eve of the game however Maharashtra were firm favourities to make the final and the story went around that the players were already looking ahead to playing the title clash in Bombay given that the reigning and oft crowned champions were expected to get the better of Hyderabad in the other semifinal.
The script on the first two days went along expected lines. The TN batting failed again and a total of 160 seemed woefully inadequate in the face of the Maharashtra run machine. However Venkat, supported ably by Kumar and medium pacer B. Kalyayasundaram saw to it that Maharashtra would by no means run away with the game. The home side was restricted to 227 and much now depended on the TN batting. However they again came a cropper being dismissed for 187 with only A.G. Satwender Singh (67) passing the half century mark.
By now it was the third morning of the scheduled four-day game and Maharashtra required only 121 runs for victory. There seemed no way back for Tamil Nadu and the Maharashtra players were already thinking ahead towards the final at Bombay. But now came about a miraculous turnaround that no one could have envisaged. Kalyanasundaram gave an early breakthrough by bowling Chauhan with just two runs on the board. Still at 53 for two Maharashtra appeared to be coasting to their meagre target. Then things changed all of a sudden. The trio of Venkat, Kumar and Kalyanasundaram all got into the wicket-taking act as Maharashtra slid sharply to 72 for nine. It was all quite unbelievable as wickets fell in a heap much to the disappointment of the home crowd.
Suddenly Tamil Nadu were on the verge of a great upset victory but there was one final twist. The tenth wicket pair of fast bowler Pandurang Salgaonkar and wicket keeper S.B. Talim put up a last minute defiance and at tea Maharashtra were 95 for nine. Having added 23 runs could they add 26 more was the discussion at the interval. However in the first over after the break, Venkat had Salgaonkar leg before, Maharashtra were all out for 96 and Tamil Nadu had completed a dramatic 24-run victory. The news was received back home with incredulous disbelief and after five years TN had made the Ranji Trophy title round in a most unexpected manner. When the team arrived back the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association arranged a worthy reception for the heroes at Central station and Venkat received the most praise for the self-belief he had installed in his lads to pull off the impossible. Half a century later it remains one of Tamil Nadu’s most significant victories besides being one that is fondly remembered.