As Day 4 between Tamil Nadu and Andhra began at the Ramakrishna College Grounds on Friday, all things pointed to an outright winner at the end of the day. And the favorites for the final day’s match were hosts Tamil Nadu. Andhra, with a lead of 114 runs, had six wickets in hand and one of their pacers had a broken finger. The pitch had just about everything: bounce, spin and showing signs of wear with some cracks in the middle.
Andhra would set them a target of 203.
For Tamil Nadu, such opportunities are rare. For all their resources in the white ball, they are a team with a lot of work to do in the Ranji Trophy, especially with the ball, where taking 20 wickets from their opponents has been a challenge.
Here, throughout the two innings, their bowlers did an excellent job. They ensured Andhra did not run away with the game as the visitors, who started the day at 162/5, were bowled out for 250 as left-arm spinner Ravisrinivasan Sai Kishore returned figures of 5/88 in the second innings. And as TN returned to the dressing room, they made quite a fuss.
Little did anyone know that when the clock struck 4:52 p.m., there would be nothing but silence and shocked faces. Certainly not at 3pm, even when Baba Indrajith was adjudged LBW to Shoaib Mohammad Khan to put Tamil Nadu at 155/4.
An exciting ending
They needed just 48 more runs with six wickets in hand. And until Indrajith was dismissed – a controversial decision – the hosts were cruising. The only bowler who was giving them trouble was off-spinner Shoaib, a familiar face to the Tamil Nadu players.
The 31-year-old plies his trade in the TNCA First Division for Swaraj CC. The son of former Indian hockey player Usman Khan, who died earlier this year, Shoaib grew up in Chennai. His alma mater St Bede’s school in Chennai has produced some of the finest cricketers in TN. During his school days Shoaib dominated the likes of Indrajith, Baba Aparajith, Washington Sundar and has a good rapport with the likes of Sai Kishore, Vijay Shankar, L Vignesh among others.
“(Hanuma) Vihari told us to set a target of at least 200-plus runs because it creates an impact psychologically. He said don’t settle for 199 and I will rest. But when TN was costing at 150/3, our shoulders started to drop and luckily , I removed Indrajith before tea,” Shoaib said.
“So when we were talking in the locker room, I was telling the guys that it’s still possible to win. There was an innings and we needed just three wickets – Vijay, Washington and Pradosh Ranjan Paul – we knew their tail is weak. Kishore could have batted, but it’s a different game with pressure, plus I would have bowled him (laughs),” added Shoaib.
So even when the game started in the last session, TN was still the favorite. But when Vijay and Pradosh died in quick succession, the tide began to turn. And by the time Sai Kishore died in 163/7 to leave TN, it was left to Washington to rescue them.
“Vihari told us not to panic and pick those three holes. We were confident that even if we were only 10 runs down and the tail was in, we could win the game. It was about maintaining discipline and with (KV) Sasikanth providing the right support from the other end, my job became easier,” added Shoaib.
Vihari too was equal with his field locations. Pacer Sasikanth bowled short and had four players managing a boundary on the leg side and short mid-wicket in play. With the boundary elusive for TN and Shoaib holding a tight line, Andhra thrived at every down.
While the off-spinner bowled unchanged from one end and picked up six wickets, TN wilted under the pressure. “We couldn’t put pressure on them until the ball got old. Once we did, we didn’t take off the pedal,” added Shoaib.
And then there was a bit of luck too. As Washington and No. 10 Ajith Ram were effortlessly picking singles and closing in on the target (just eight off), the former was caught behind by Shoaib. The batsman countered and took an eternity to get away. “I don’t know if I’m allowed to say it, but there were no nicknames. But earlier, Sai Sudharsan overtook one and that was not given. So I got it back when it mattered,” said Shoaib.
And by the time Washington took Sasikanth into the hands of the leg-spinner, TN were eight wickets short, having suffered defeat against all front-runners.