Chandrakant Pandit’s astute and unmatched coachmanship, Faiz Fazal’s inspirational leadership, Ganesh Satish and Wasim Jaffer’s experience, Sanjay Raghunath and Akshay Wadkar's clutch knocks, Rajneesh Gurbani's swing bowling, and Aditya Sarwate and Akshay Wakhare’s dominance in the spin department - it was all these factors that helped Vidarbha win their maiden Ranji Trophy title on this very day in 2018.
They had a near-perfect Ranji Trophy 2017-18 and defeated Delhi by nine wickets in the final to win the prestigious domestic trophy for the first time in their 61st attempt.
Vidarbha made their Ranji Trophy debut in the 1957-58 season and it took them 61 years to get their hands on the trophy. Forget winning the trophy, Vidarbha didn’t even qualify for the semi-finals in their past 60 attempts.
They were terrible during the 2013-14 season, winning just one of their eight encounters. They did make it through to the quarter-finals of the next two editions but failed to do anything substantial in the 2016-17 season. That’s when Vidarbha said enough is enough and hired Chandrakant Pandit as their head coach prior to the 2017-18 season, and the Man with the Midas Touch weaved his magic once again.
In a long red-ball competition like Ranji Trophy, it’s always crucial to start the season with an outright win and Vidarbha got that when they hammered Punjab by an innings and 117 runs. Former Karnataka batter Ganesh Satish, who moved to Vidarbha in the 2014-15 season, slammed 164, while Sanjay Ramaswamy too got 161. With runs on the board, Vidarbha’s bowling unit had little trouble dealing with Punjab’s batters.
Vidarbha then went on to get outright wins against Services, Bengal and Goa, while their games against Chhattisgarh and Himachal Pradesh ended in a draw. They conceded a first-innings lead against Chhattisgarh in their second match of the season but then won those three encounters in a row. In their last group game, Vidarbha did get the first-innings lead against Himachal and ended as Group D table-toppers.
Then came the knockouts and that’s when Rajneesh Gurbani forced everyone to sit up and take notice. The right-arm pacer, who relies heavily on swing bowling, claimed 27 wickets in three games (quarter-final, semi-final and final) at an average of 14.11 and a strike rate of 27.2, studded with four five-wicket hauls. He was the Player of the Match in each of those three encounters. The other bowlers hardly had to do anything.
In the quarter-final against Kerala, Gurbani took seven wickets in the match. Vidarbha could only get 246 in the first innings but Gurbani dismantled Kerala to give his team a 70-run lead. Skipper Faiz Fazal and Apoorv Wankhade then crafted centuries in the second essay and Vidarbha comfortably won the match by 412 runs. However, their biggest test came against heavyweights Karnataka in the semi-final.
The venue was Eden Gardens and Vidarbha were dismissed for just 185 in the first innings. Karun Nair then smashed 153 and gave Karnataka a sizeable lead of 116 runs. It looked like Vidarbha’s dream run would finally come to an end but Fazal and his men were having none of that. The likes of Wasim Jaffer, Satish, Wankhade, Akshay Wadkar and Aditya Sarwate all got 30-plus runs each and gave Karnataka a tricky target of 198. Gurbani, who had claimed five wickets in the first innings, took seven more in the second and ripped apart Karnataka's famous batting line-up. They ended up winning the game by just five runs.
Karnataka were defeated but Gurbani and Vidarbha weren’t done yet. The right-armer got a hat-trick in the final against Delhi before Vidarbha amassed 547 runs in their first innings, with wicketkeeper-batter Wadkar scoring 133. Fazal (67), Jaffer (78), Sarwate (79) and Siddesh Neral (74) all got half-centuries as Vidarbha batted Delhi out of the contest. Delhi somehow got a lead of 28 in the second essay and Vidarbha hunted it down with nine wickets to spare. History was made and Vidarbha were rightfully crowned as champions for the first time in their history.
"The way we played the first game against Punjab - they are a great side and we got seven points from that game. That set the tone and we started believing that definitely we can win this trophy. As a cricketer, you always think winning the Ranji Trophy will be the biggest thing. Winning the Ranji Trophy has been the biggest achievement in my career," Fazal said after the final.
Fazal (912 runs @ 70.15) led Vidarbha from the front and ended the tournament as the second-highest run-scorer. Meanwhile, Sanjay (775 @ 64.58), Satish (638 @ 58), Jaffer (595 @ 54.09), Sarwate (330 @ 47.14) and Wadkar (308 @ 61.60) too scored lots of runs. In the bowling department, Gurbani took 39 wickets at an average of 17.12, while Wakhare (34 wickets @ 21.76) and Sarwate (29 wickets @ 16.65) were also impressive throughout the tournament.
A couple of months later, Vidarbha also went on to win the Irani Trophy to cap off their successful season. Many people called this season a fluke but Vidarbha responded by defending both those titles the very next year. However, Vidarbha haven’t qualified for the knockouts since then, but have won two of their first three games in the ongoing season and are looking in good form.
Ranji Trophy: Gaikwad's knock helps Saurashtra qualify for QF; Railways chase down record target
Who is Shubham Dubey, the batter who got purchased for 5.80 crore by RR?
If not KS Bharat, then who?
Meet India's next crop of Test players ft. Rinku, Sarfaraz, Avesh, and more
Vidarbha’s BJ Watling, Akshay ‘clutch’ Wadkar continues to go unrewarded
The famous 2009-10 Ranji Trophy final
Vijay Hazare Trophy 2022/23 - Team of the Tournament
Ranji Trophy 2021-22: Team of the Tournament
Ranji Round-up: Mumbai create a turnaround; Jharkhand win a nail-biting affair