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Sai Kishore's Tamil Nadu bear the fruit of a seed that was sowed last year

Last updated on 27 Feb 2024 | 06:43 AM
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Sai Kishore's Tamil Nadu bear the fruit of a seed that was sowed last year

It has been six seasons since Tamil Nadu made it to the semi-final stage of the Ranji Trophy

Long before the start of the season, Sai Kishore wasn’t sure whether he would lead the side this year. 

There was some uncertainty about how the new coach, Sulakshan Kulkarni, would want his team to operate. A question to be answered was whether the Tamil Nadu players would have the same trust and confidence to continue watering the seed they sowed last year. 

Sai Kishore, though, was certainly aware of what brand of cricket his Tamil Nadu side would play, and that was aggressive. It is no surprise that Kishore picked a lot of that from the likes of MS Dhoni, Hardik Pandya, Dinesh Karthik and most recently, Baba Indrajith

“So if I have to lead Tamil Nadu, we obviously have very good players and representation. It is just that few calls and a few areas that haven’t gone our way, even when Indar (Indrajith) led us last year, we were very good. So, it is only a matter of time and we will get it all right this year,” Kishore told earlier in August. 

Read: How Sai Kishore prepared himself for the captaincy gig

At that point, Tamil Nadu were yet again knocked out in the group stage, and with no real display in the previous years, there were plenty of questions on the table. Despite producing several high-calibre cricketers, the state team were severely underperforming in the red-ball format, often sandwiched between their white-ball success. 

But when the seed was sowed in 2023, there was some sort of alignment in the dressing room that this was a brand of cricket that they envisioned. Kulkarni changed a few game rules, but its tone stayed the same. 

“I think we haven’t really performed to our fullest, but some players have done really well. This year, Tamil Nadu is very serious about red-ball cricket, we will be sorted this year. Everyone is very keen on winning, there is this aura as well. I think every problem will be solved,” Kishore had to add. 

For the outsiders who were watching Tamil Nadu for the first time, they were taken aback by what Kishore was doing at No.3, a position that is often for specialist batters. They even speculated he was just a nightwatchman, saving the other batters. 

But this is a role that the left-handed batter has specialised in over the last two years. Time and again, when the ball is moving sharply, or the clouds are moody, Kishore has promoted himself to No.3 to bat time and often bat in tough phases that make the lives of the other batters easier. As a leader, too, that’s the role of the 27-year-old.

He takes up the tough gig, the dry bowling phase, and the overcast batting phase in his hands and often leads the team to outstanding results. That was also the case in Coimbatore when he walked out early with the score reading 9/1. He soaked the pressure and started timing his counter-attack to precision, with a 60 of the highest order. 

That, in turn, allowed the likes of Baba Indrajith, Boopathi Kumar and Vijay Shankar to wade their way through slightly easier passages of play. With the ball, too, it was almost like Kishore wanted to do it all alone in the second innings. 

After five wickets in the first innings, it was the left-arm spinner who broke Saurashtra’s back in a spell that saw him bowl 26.4 overs, only conceding 27 runs, with four big breakthroughs, including removing Kevin Jivrajani and Cheteshwar Pujara, who put a massive price on their wickets. 

It hasn’t been just one game. Throughout the season, the 27-year-old has taken up this gig only intending to win the title. He’s the leading wicket-taker in the season, with 47 scalps, averaging just 18.78 with the ball. 


“The hunger is always there; you always want to play at a higher level for India ‘A’ and India. That’s the ultimate goal, and in terms of consistency, when you have the hunger to perform well,” Baba Indrajith spoke about Test ambitions in a recent interview with

He was the one who sowed the seed in the very first place. If Tamil Nadu are at the place where they are now, it is all because of that well-oiled bat that Indrajith has taken out to the middle. While the opportunity to represent India or India ‘A’ has slipped past him over the last few years, Indrajith is as determined as ever. 

In fact, the 29-year-old knows that an 800-900 season could very well turn the selection tide in his favour. But for that to happen, Tamil Nadu had to make the knock-outs dream a reality. After the opening-round loss against Gujarat, it seemed like that time, too, was ticking. But then came Indrajith, who yielded the bat in the most important games. 

Be it the 96 against Karnataka, his crucial 187 in the must-win clash against Punjab, or his 80 against Saurashtra, name the tough games, and chances are that Indrajith has played a handy role for Tamil Nadu. 

In a season where a lot of impetus has been on Jagadeesan, who rightfully has struck his way to the top of the leaderboard, Indrajith has been a real backbone for the state. Indrajith has scored 686 runs, which might seem way lesser than Jagadeesan’s 812 runs, but it has come in games where Tamil Nadu have walls against the back. 

His mantra is simple: bigger scores, bigger season and winning that Ranji Trophy. 

This is not to discount Jagadeesan, who was, in his way, very vital to the team’s contribution. It was the right-hander whose twin marathon innings showed Railways and Chandigarh the backdoor with his domineering innings. Across those two games, he had scored a mammoth 566 runs but also played a big part in the rest of the Ranji campaign. 

“Our initial aim was always to win the game, and we only looked at NRR after that. Last year, I genuinely felt that last year’s (2022-23) brand of cricket was the best year I have been part of in the Tamil Nadu setup,” Jagadeesan looked back on the 2023 Ranji Trophy season. 

Chasing 71 against Punjab in the second innings, Tamil Nadu made a mockery of that run-chase, with Jagadeesan scoring 26 off 18 balls. But there’s one more talent who, with his attacking game style, has thrown the opponents’ plans out of the window: Pradosh Ranjan Paul. 

Pradosh has just scored 449 runs in the season but has often come out attacking, making batting extremely comfortable for his partner at the non-striker’s end. It is evident in how the other batters have batted around him. The left-hander is just beginning, which could be a bad sign for the opponents. 

In Vijay Shankar, they have someone who knows how to hit the long ball, but this season, he has absorbed the pressure to the fullest, with 389 runs, facing 779 balls, which instils a lot of confidence in the dressing room. 


While Sai Kishore might be the experienced of the two spinners, Ajith Ram has been shovelling the opponents’ hopes with his bowling. With his angles, line and length, the left-arm spinner has disrupted the batters’ momentum and often has struck with crucial breakthroughs in the season. 

His skilful bowling saw the back of an experienced campaigner in Mayank Agarwal, which also kick-started the slightest of hopes for Tamil Nadu in the clash against Karnataka. The left-arm spinner’s delivery went past the inside edge of the Karnataka opener, smacking the leg stump. 

In 12 innings, Ram has picked up 41 wickets, but what is quite a crazy bit of stat is his average: 14.09. Those are mad numbers for a bowler who has bowled over 200 overs in this season alone. While several others are up higher on that average list, his contribution has been massive in Tamil Nadu’s pursuit of breaking their Ranji Trophy jinx. 

Even in the Saurashtra game, the left-arm spinner saw the back of Cheteshwar Pujara in the first innings and picked up five wickets in the match. With three four-fers in his last four Ranji Trophy clashes, the opponents might have to be wary of Ajith Ram’s magic with the ball. 

If Tamil Nadu’s bowling efforts were only restricted to the two spinners, it wouldn’t be a fair evaluation of their season. In conditions that don’t give the pacers too much to do, it has been a terrific showing from the new-ball bowling pair of M Mohammed and Sandeep Warrier

The pair picked up 31 wickets between them. But what remained impressive is that they have done this without conceding too many runs, with a bowling economy of just 2.84 and 2.98, respectively. 

One of the biggest drawbacks for Tamil Nadu’s bowling has always been the lack of pace bowlers in the recent past. When Warrier moved from Kerala to Tamil Nadu, there was a big sigh of relief that there was experience, and with people like Mohammed bowling from the other end, there’s plenty of control. 

The pair have also shown great prowess with the bat, which has been lacking for the longest time. Tamil Nadu have had great bowlers and great batters, but now this set of players have batters who can bowl and bowlers who can bat. 

Warrier has scored 52 runs in the season, and Mohammed has scored 142 runs, including an 85 against Gujarat. It was a batting display that allowed Tamil Nadu to take a first-innings lead against Gujarat despite being 80 runs down with just two wickets left. 

Even batters like Pradosh could chip in with his off-spin, picking up seven wickets in the season and averaging 17.42. Tamil Nadu couldn’t have asked for anything more. 

A popular phrase from the 2019 Tamil movie ‘Bigil’ goes like “Cup than mukiyam Bigil-u (Trophy is only important).” It is an emotion that Sai Kishore and his side know the best. 

Tamil Nadu last won a Ranji Trophy 36 years ago, and it was a left-arm spinner who was more than capable with the bat: S Vasudevan, who led the team. 

36 years later, can history repeat itself?

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