When Day 4 between Tamil Nadu and Andhra began at the Ramakrishna College Grounds on Friday, all things pointed to an outright winner by the end of the day. And the favourites going into the final day’s play were hosts Tamil Nadu. Andhra, with a 114 run-lead had six wickets in hand and one of their pacers had a fractured finger. The pitch just about had everything – there was bounce, turn and it was showing signs of wear and tear with a few cracks in the middle.
Andhra would set them a target of 203.
For Tamil Nadu, such opportunities come rare. For all the resources they have in whiteball, in Ranji Trophy they are a side with plenty of work to do, especially with the ball as taking 20 opposition wickets has been a challenge.
Here, over the course of the two innings, their bowlers did a splendid job. They ensured Andhra didn’t run away with the game as the visitors starting the day at 162/5 ended up being dismissed for 250 with left-arm spinner Ravisrinivasan Sai Kishore returning figures of 5/88 in the second innings. And as TN went back to the dressing room, they were suitably boisterous.
Little did anyone know by the time the clock struck 4:52 PM, there would be nothing but silence and stunned faces. Definitely not at 3 PM, even when Baba Indrajith was adjudged LBW to offie Shoaib Mohammad Khan with Tamil Nadu placed at 155/4.
They needed only 48 more runs with six wickets in hand. And until Indrajith was dismissed – a debatable decision – the hosts were cruising. The only bowler, who was giving them trouble was off-spinner Shoaib, a familiar face for the Tamil Nadu players.
The 31-year-old plies his trade in TNCA First Division for Swaraj CC. Son of former India hockey player late Usman Khan, who died earlier this year, Shoaib was raised in Chennai. His alma mater St Bede’s school in Chennai has produced some of the best TN cricketers. In his school days Shoaib was senior to the likes of Indrajith, Baba Aparajith, Washington Sundar and enjoys a good rapport with the likes of Sai Kishore, Vijay Shankar, L Vignesh among others.
“(Hanuma) Vihari had told us to set a target of at least one run above 200 because psychologically it creates an impact. He said don’t even settle for 199 and rest I will take care. But when TN were coasting at 150/3, our shoulders were beginning to drop and luckily I removed Indrajith just before tea,” Shoaib said.
“So when we had a chat in the dressing room, I was telling the guys that it is still possible to win. There was turn and we needed only three wickets – Vijay, Washington and Pradosh Ranjan Paul – because we knew their tail is weak. Kishore could bat, but with pressure on it is a different game, plus I was going to bowl at him (laughs)” Shoaib added.
So even when play began in the final session, TN remained favourites. But as Vijay and Pradosh perished in successive overs, the tide began to turn. And by the time Sai Kishore perished to leave TN at 163/7, it was left to Washington to bail them out.
“Vihari had told us not to panic and just pick those three wickets. We were confident that even if only 10 runs were there and their tail was in, we could still win the game. It was all about maintaining discipline and with (KV) Sasikanth providing the right support from the other end, my job became easier,” Shoaib added.
Vihari too was equally smart with his field placements. He made pacer Sasikanth bowl short and had four fielders manning the boundary on the leg-side and a short mid-wicket in play. As the boundary remained elusive for TN, and Shoaib operating a tight line, Andhra surged ahead with every over.
While the off-spinner bowled unchanged from one end and picked up six wickets, TN just wilted under pressure. “We were not able to put pressure on them till the ball got old. Once we did, we didn’t take pedal off the foot,” Shoaib added.
And then there was a bit of luck too. When Washington and No 10 Ajith Ram were picking singles effortlessly and taking them closer to the target – just eight short – the former was given out caught behind off Shoaib. The batter objected and took an eternity to leave. “I don’t know if I’m allowed to say, but there was no nick. But earlier, Sai Sudharsan had edged one and that wasn’t given. So I got it back the moment it mattered,” Shoaib said.
And by the time Washington pulled Sasikanth to the hands of the fine-leg fielder, TN ended up eight runs short as they suffered a defeat against all prior pointers.