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MP reach Ranji final for first time in 23 years, set up clash with Mumbai

Express News Service

BENGALURU: It had been seven overs since lunch on Day 5 of the Ranji Trophy semifinal clash between Bengal and Madhya Pradesh at Alur on Saturday. Bengal were down to 143/7, having lost two wickets since the break, including their skipper Abhimanyu Easwaran for a stoic 157-ball 78 to Kumar Kartikeya. MP were high on confidence and just needed three good deliveries to reach the final for the first time in 23 years.

And then a voice was heard on the stump mic. ,Bhai log, kaam nahi hua poora, mehnat karte raho (Brothers, the job is not yet done, keep working hard),” shouted wicketkeeper Himanshu Mantri.

At first, it made one wonder where that was coming from, especially when there was just one recognized batter left in Shahbaz Ahmed and they had 62 overs in hand.

Perhaps, they did not want to have any kind of complacency. After all, they had let Bengal score 273 in the first innings after reducing them to 54/5. And their lead spinners Kartikeya and Saransh Jain had been bowling in tandem for most of the fourth innings. And it was not just Mantri, who was trying to maintain the energy. Every now and then, one could hear voices of motivation from different corners of the ground.

Whether it helped or not, one cannot say for certain, but they just needed another eight overs to finish the job at hand. Kartikeya, once again, was the star, picking up 5/67 in the fourth innings as MP dismissed Bengal for 175, registering a massive 174-run victory to reach the final for the first time in 23 years.

When a team achieves a milestone like that, it would be normal for them to be ecstatic. But as Gaurav Yadav castled the stumps to take the final wicket of Mukesh Kumar, apart from the initial roar from the pacer, there was little else. They all shook hands and walked back to the dressing room as one goes home after a day’s job.

Perhaps that’s the kind of approach their head coach Chandrakant Pandit, who also led MP to the final in 1999, had imbibed in them through their campaign.

When asked about the muted celebrations, he said as much. “I didn’t say anything,” Pandit said with a smile after the match.

“Celebration, there is one celebration: after winning the final. That is the only celebration in cricket. Happiness, I agree. I have not said anything, but I think they have understood my (method),” he added.

With Pandit, there is no middle ground. When he takes up responsibility, he said, “I try to fulfill my wholehearted passion and commitment.”

And that attitude was visible from his cadres as well throughout the game. Even when former India batter Manoj Tiwary got out on Day 4, which Pandit called the turning point of the match, barring the initial ‘C’mon’ or roar from the bowler, none of the celebrations was over the top. It seemed like they are on a mission with Pandit and captain Aditya Shrivastava steering them forward.

In 1999, Madhya Pradesh were well on their way to winning their first-ever title in the final against Karnataka at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru, with Pandit batting in the middle in the fourth innings, after his side had gained a first-innings lead. But after Vijay Bharadwaj dismissed Pandit, MP crumbled, losing their last six wickets in 7.5 overs.

As Pandit returns to the very same venue with MP after 23 years — this time as a coach — to take on Mumbai, he believes it’s happening for a reason. “I don’t know what God is expecting. He is definitely taking us there for some reason. What he had given Karnataka in the last seven overs (23 years ago), the trophy, probably, he wants to return it for us. “

Brief scores: Madhya Pradesh 341 & 281 bt Bengal 273 & 175 (Abhimanyu Easwaran 78, Shahbaz Ahmed 22 no; Kumar Kartikeya 5/67; Gaurav Yadav 3/19). Mumbai 393 & 533/4 decl (Yashasvi 181, Armaan 127, Sarfaraz 59 no, Shams 51 no) bt Uttar Pradesh 180.

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