On Sunday, Vidarbha – which is technically not a State but a region in the East of Maharashtra – won their maiden Ranji Trophy title by defeating 7-time champions Delhi by 9 wickets in the Ranji Trophy 2017 Final. It took them 61 seasons and 260 matches – an achievement almost as miraculous as Leicester City winning the 2015-16 English Premier League title against all odds. Vidarbha’s was the third longest wait in Indian Ranji history – after Gujarat (83) and Uttar Pradesh (72).
Last season, Vidarbha didn’t make it out of the group stages, winning just two of its eight games. This season, Vidarbha won four and drew two, topping their group, and then remaining unbeaten throughout India’s largest domestic tournament – defeating three Ranji Champions (Delhi, Karnataka, Punjab) on the way. Their semifinal against Karnataka, where they won by a mere 5 runs, was the best domestic match of the year.
In doing so, Vidarbha became only the 18th Ranji Trophy Champion in the 84th edition of the tournament and the third first-time Champion this decade alone.
However, Vidarbha isn’t the only team to pull off a full-season miracle in Ranji Trophy history. There have been a couple of seasons that have defied tradition and expectations. Here are three such instances:
The 2016-17 Season: A Gujarati Story
Under old ‘young’ warhorse Parthiv Patel, Gujarat – a team that had never won the Ranji Trophy in 82 attempts – embarked on a campaign that was to end with history. In the second week of January 2017, Gujarat began the fifth day of the Final against 41-time Champions Mumbai as the underdogs. This, despite taking a 100-run first-innings lead. They needed 313 to win, and nobody had ever chased down a score in excess of 310 in the history of Ranji cricket. Up stepped skipper Patel, who anchored the improbable chase with a heroic inning of 143, where he almost took them to the end. Gujarat ended up winning by 5 wickets, and Mumbai had lost their first Final out of their last 10 Finals. A pair of fifties by once ‘lost talent’ Manpreet Juneja secured the team’s greatest day in almost a century. Nothing could have outdone Gujarat’s fairytale season, until a year later Vidarbha proved that lightning could strike twice.
The 2010-11 Season: The Raj Begins
It almost seemed like for their maiden title victory in this season and then the second consecutive title next season, Rajasthan was being coached by Jose Mourinho, who was teaching them to be consistent, ‘park the bus’ and protect the lead. Not the most popular of winners, Rajasthan won their first ever Ranji title after losing in the Final on eight previous occasions – 7 of them to Mumbai in the 1960s. They made it to the Final against Baroda in the 2010-11 season after 37 long years – and this time, they didn’t bother playing to the gallery. They became one of the few teams to have won the title with just two outright wins through the campaign – winning their quarterfinals, semifinals and Final with a first-innings lead. Playing in Vadodara, Rajasthan put on 394, which wasn’t as big as they would have pleased. But they managed to eek out a 33-run lead when Baroda scored 361 – the damage had been done. What was truly remarkable was Rajasthan’s rise under old captain Hrishikesh Kanitkar. They were the bottom-placed team in the Plate League a year back, and they rose to the top by defeating defending champs Mumbai in the quarterfinals and Tamil Nadu in the semifinals – by starting stronger and outbatting these teams.
The 2005-06 Ranji Season: UP In The Air
Once again, it was the captain’s tale. The names here would be of great interest, too: Mohammed Kaif, the Uttar Pradesh skipper, in the prime of his batting life, led his State to their first Ranji title in 73 seasons. He scored a 90 and a century over two innings. His partner-in-crime in the Final: Suresh Raina, with a pair of fifties. Yes, the strike bowler, who was a “pinch hitting” opener for UP at the top of their order. Kumar also took five wickets in the second innings, though UP won on basis of their slender 14-run first-innings lead against Bengal (387 to 373). Piyush Chawla was their spinner in a campaign. Bengal’s captain was ex-India wicketkeeper Deep Dasgupta, while players like Manoj Tiwary and Rohan Gavaskar were part of the losing finalists. Uttar Pradesh’s campaign was particularly miraculous because they finished 7th in the group standings – barely qualifying for the quarterfinals (top 8 teams) after losing their first two matches, and managing only four points from their first four matches. It was then that they pulled off three outright wins when Kaif returned from national duty to pull UP to the Final, where they finally fulfilled all the potential they had been showing at the turn of the century.