A young Tamil Nadu have been the most attractive and consistent team through the 2016-17 domestic season, making it to the Ranji Trophy semifinals and missing out winning the South Zone leg of the inter-state Twenty20 championship because of a poor net run-rate. But they capped off a good season with a 37-run win over Bengal in the Vijay Hazare Trophy 2016-17 final at Feroz Shah Kotla in New Delhi on Monday (March 20).
Opting to bat, Tamil Nadu rode on Dinesh Karthik’s responsible 112 before being bowled out for 217 in 47.2 overs. They needed to compensate for a below-average batting performance on the field, and they did that in style. The bowlers built dot-ball pressure, leaving Bengal to do more than they would have wanted in the last half of their chase on a pitch that slowed down considerably. Bengal were eventually bowled out for 180 in 45.5 overs as Tamil Nadu won their fifth – and first since 2009-10 – title.
Aswin Crist and M Mohammed, the new-ball pair, built pressure straightaway and it resulted in Abhimanyu Easwaran, Bengal’s best batsman of the season, committing to a non-existent single in the fifth over and getting run out. A ball later, perhaps consumed by the situation, Agniv Pan played Crist across the line to be bowled, and Bengal became 4 for 2 in five overs.
Shreevats Goswami, who like Easwaran had made a century in the semifinal win over Jharkhand, and Manoj Tiwary were kept quiet before Vijay Shankar, the captain, dived full length to his left at midwicket to send Goswami back for 23.
Tiwary used his experience to keep the scoreboard ticking before his decision to pull a back-of-the-length delivery from Vijay resulted in him being stuck in his crease and losing his stumps for 32.
The onus fell on the fifth-wicket pair of Sudip Chatterjee and Anustup Majumder to rescue the team, like they had done in the quarterfinal against Maharashtra. They weathered the storm to put on 65 runs in 14.4 overs before Majumder missed a flick after stepping down the track against B Aparajith in the 36th over and was given lbw for 24. The biggest blow came in the 39th over when Chatterjee’s attempt to tap R Sai Kishore, the left-arm spinner, to the fine-leg fence resulted in his stumps being uprooted. He made 58 in 79 balls.
Aamir Gani tried hard, but other Bengal batsmen were unable to cope with the intelligence of the Tamil Nadu bowlers, who mixed their pace well. It meant that Tamil Nadu extended their unbeaten streak over Bengal in Vijay Hazare Trophy finals to three.
Bengal were the happier team going into the midway break, largely due to Ashok Dinda’s first spell of 7-0-26-3 with the new ball early in the morning. He and Mohammed Shami (4 for 26), who replaced Sayan Ghosh for his first match in two weeks and bowled at good pace, reduced Tamil Nadu to 49 for 4 in 10.3 overs.
Karthik took charge after that, playing some scintillating strokes to impress the three national selectors and the handful of spectators that had turned up. But, except for his fifth-wicket stand of 85 runs with B Indrajith, the innings lacked intent.
Bengal’s exceptional fielding, especially inside the 30-yard circle, added to Tamil Nadu’s woes, and the manner in which they ran out Indrajith and Washington Sundar suggested that they were more switched on than their opponents.
Karthik’s drive off the fifth ball of the 27th over hit Indrajith on his arm. Indrajith, who was rubbing the injured area didn’t realise that he had to get back to the crease. Abhimanyu was alert enough to pick up the ball and produce a direct hit from the covers.
Then Karthik dabbed the third ball of the 37th over to midwicket and Washington, who was part of a 38-run stand for the sixth wicket, ran without waiting for his partner’s call. Tiwary just had to throw the ball to Gani, the bowler, to complete the formalities.
Those two run outs really hampered Tamil Nadu’s aspirations of putting up a fight after the early collapse.
Karthik though batted fluently, almost at a different level, throughout the innings on his way to becoming the highest run-getter in one edition of the competition. He finished with 607 runs at 86.71, going past Goswami’s tally of 568 in 2009-10.
Karthik showed his touch in the very second ball he faced when he was quick on his feet to hook Dinda from outside the off stump to the square-leg fence. The shot of the match came a few balls later when he opened the face of his bat to guide the ball between point and gully for his third four. His next boundary was as impressive as he pulled Shami effortlessly.
Karthik’s presence in the middle meant that though Tamil Nadu were four down, the run rate never dipped. He was Shami’s last victim when he was hit wicket off a wide ball. Karthik hit the stumps while completing his follow through. Karthik wouldn’t mind that, though, as he has the silverware to show for his troubles.