Ranji Trophy review: Kerala faltered in crunch games, failed to fire collectively

Sachin Baby
Sachin Baby was the standout batter for Kerala. File photo: KCA

Kerala failed to progress to the Ranji Trophy knockout phase for the second successive season after finishing third in Elite Group C. 

Kerala lost only one of their seven matches, but they faltered in the crunch games against Karnataka and Pondicherry.

Though they drew both the games, Kerala could manage only one point each after conceding the vital first-innings lead. 

In the end, Kerala (21 points) missed out to Jharkhand (23) for the second qualifying spot behind group-toppers Karnataka (35).

Sachin Baby and off-spinner Jalaj Saxena were the standout performers for Kerala. Sachin's tally of 830 runs at an average of 83 was second only to Delhi's Dhruv Shorey (859) in the group stage, while Saxena ended up as the top wicket-taker with 50 scalps. The 36-year-old picked up seven five-wicket hauls from as many matches. 

Jalaj Saxena
Jalaj Saxena bowled his heart out for Kerala. File photo: KCA

Another veteran Rohan Prem, who made a comeback, started promisingly, but could not sustain it. The southpaw scored 480 runs at an average of 40.

Crisis man

Sachin was the crisis man for Kerala. He saved the team with an unbeaten 81 against Rajasthan on the final day. The left-hander came to the side's rescue in the matches against Services and Karnataka as well. He set up the home side's win over Services with superb knocks of 159 and 93, while his 141 followed up by an unbeaten 37 helped them escape with a draw against Karnataka at the St Xavier's College Ground, Thumba.

In hindsight, Kerala's strategy of playing all their home games on the spin-friendly wicket at Thumba did not yield the desired results. Though they won against Chhattisgarh and Services, the team suffered an unexpected loss at the hands of Goa. 

While a brilliant double hundred by Mayank Agarwal (208) meant Karnataka gained the crucial first innings lead.

Fitness and health issues did not help Kerala's cause. Opener P  Rahul missed the opening game against Jharkhand, while his partner Rohan Kunnummal was forced to sit out of two games due to fever. The biggest setback was regular captain Sanju Samson picking up an injury during the first T20I against Sri Lanka. 

Sanju played in only three games and his deputy Sijomon Joseph led the team in the remaining four matches.

“Pondicherry prepared a flat track for the crucial final game. Though we took a gamble by picking three seamers it didn't work out. We did quite well, but the players have to learn the art of delivering in the pressure games,” said Sijomon.

In the absence of Sanju, Kerala missed an attacking batter in the middle order. In hindsight, the omission of the swashbuckling Vishnu Vinod proved to be a mistake.

Vaisakh Chandran impressed in his debut season. The offie formed a lethal pair with Saxena. Vaisakh's 20 wickets from five games was second only to Saxena among Kerala bowlers.

Sijomon did well by aggregating 258 runs and picking up 13 wickets. However, the left-arm spinner would have loved to pick up more wickets.

The experienced new-ball pair of Basil Thampi and M D Nidheesh had a disappointing season.

It was a season in which Kerala failed to click collectively as a team. The selectors and the team management will have to get it right next season.

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