Pakistan v England at Dubai, 1st Test

While I will not be able to watch any of #PakvEng, I will be able to watch a smattering of other high quality cricket, as the final of the Ranji Trophy, India’s version of England’s County Championship, will be streamed live on bcci.tv.

As such, I thought I would do a preview of the match, I will start with a brief history of the competition:

While it is similar to the County Championship in that the matches are four-day, first-class matches, there is one major difference: a knockout competition at the end of the season decides the winner, instead of simply total points.

The format has changed several times throughout the years, currently there are two divisions, the Super League and the Plate League (division 1 and division 2, basically).

Each league is divided into two groups. The top three teams from the two groups in the Super League and the top two teams from the Plate League (decided with a four team knock out stage) play in a knock out tournament to decide the winner of the Ranji Trophy.

(The last place teams in each of the two groups in the Super League are relegated, the top two teams in the Plate League are promoted.)

(And I thought the Aussie Rules football format was overly complex.)

The league itself was formed in 1934 and is named after the wildly famous Indian cricketer, Ranjitsinhji.

Here is a great article on him. According to John Lord, author of the The Maharajahs, Ranjijitsinhji was “the first Indian of any kind to become universally known and popular.”  Neville Cardus, an English cricket writer, described him “the Midsummer night’s dream of cricket.”

He was also an Indian Prince, and represented India at the League of Nations.

Over the history of the tournament, Bombay/Mumbai has won a positively jaw dropping 39 of the competition’s 77 titles. Including 15 in a row between 1958 and 1973.

Both of those stats harken back to my posts on Surrey and their seven County Championships in a row; and Yorkshire’s 30 overall County titles.

In the former, I surmised that Surrey’s record surpassed the Celtics’s eight titles in a row, and other than that I had a difficult time finding a comparison.  Mumbai’s 15 in a row, however, no matter the quality of the league, is beyond impressive.

And regarding the former, again, no matter the league, winning 51% of the available titles in a league that has been around since the 1930s is the definition of domination.  Especially considering the next closest team, Delhi, only has seven titles to its name.

Despite the above, in comparison to La Liga and the Scottish Premiere League, the domination of Mumbai and Delhi of their league does not even approach the manner in which Barcelona and Real Madrid rule Spain’s first division (64% of the titles), or how Celtic and Rangers boss the SPL (85%.)

(Update: hat tip to @thecricketcouch (twitter, blog) for pointing out that John Wooden’s UCLA men’s basketball teams of the 60s and 70s deserved to be mentioned in the Surrey post, the Yorkshire post, and in this post.  Ten championships between 1963 and 1975, including seven in a row. Domination.)

So will Mumbai win number 40 this year?

Nope, they will be at home, watching the final on television, as they lost their semi-final match against Tamil Nadu in a tie-breaker.

In the final, Tamil Nadu will face last years champion, Rajasthan:

Rajasthan is an interesting story:  last year’s Ranji Trophy was the first in the club’s history (they had been runners up a painful 11 times before lifting the trophy.)  Even more interesting is that they started the season in the Plate League, the lower division.

This year Rajasthan played in the Super League, finishing third in Group A (Mumbai finished first) with record of played seven, won two, drawn five.   They finished level on points with Saurashtra and Utter Pradash – I am not sure what the tiebreaker is but I am guessing it’s either runs scored or head to head record or a combination of the two.

In the knockout stages, they defeated Hyderabad in the quarter-finals and Haryana in the semi-finals.  The former ended in a draw, with Rajasthan advancing on first innings runs scored; they won the semi-final outright by 64 runs.

Key players for Rajasthan this season include Robin Bist, who led the entire competition in runs scored this season with 885.  On the bowling side, the man to watch is Pankaj Singh, a right armed medium pacer.  He had the third highest wicket total in the league this season, with 32 – he also took 12 of Haryana’s wickets in his squad’s semi-final match.

Back to Tamil Nadu:  They have won the trophy twice, most recently in 1988, and have finished second 10 times.  This season, in the Super League, they won Group B outright with a record of played six, won one, drawn five.

In the quarter-finals they defeated Maharashtra via the tiebreaker and, as mentioned above, they defeated Mumbai in the semi-finals, again via first innings runs.

Tamil Nadu’s key players include Abhinav Mukund at the crease. He finished second in overall runs scored this season, and he also has 16 100s in only 88 first-class innings.

They only have one bowler that finished in the top 10 in wickets taken, though that might have something to do with the fact that Group B teams play one fewer game than Group A teams (making Mukund’s second place finish in runs scored even more impressive.)   One bowler to watch would be Lakshmipathy Balaji, he took four wickets in the first innings against Mumbai, while also restricting his opponents to a stingy 1.86 runs per over in his 16 overs, which at the end of the day probably won Tamil Nadu the match.

So who is going to win?

Well, hard to tell.  They did not face each other during the regular season, so a true head to head comparison is out the window.

Over the season, Rajasthan averaged 556 runs per game, while Tamil Nadu averaged 482.  Meanwhile the former conceded an average of 533 per game, while the latter conceded 393 per game.

The match is also being played at Tamil Nadu’s home ground, the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai, so considering that along with the stats above, I predict the hosts to win in a squeaker.

First ball is at 10pm Minneapolis time on the 18th.

Hash tag…#ranjitrophyfinal? Let me know if someone comes up with something better.

Until next time.

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