Ebullient Maharashtra pacer Samad Mohammed Fallah has been raising his performance with each game in the Ranji Trophy this season, tormenting formidable rivals while guiding his team into the final. Now, Maharashtra are on the verge of making a sort of 'history’.
Having captured 31 wickets so far, Fallah has a golden opportunity to bowl another inspired spell to guide Maharashtra to their first Ranji Trophy title after 73 years. Maharashtra have won the title only twice in the 79-year history of the national cricket championship, in 1939-40 and 1940-41.
"Our next match is the final and if we play well and win, it would be a sort of history for Maharashtra as we haven’t won the Ranji Trophy for many years. Now, only the final game is on my mind, nothing else,” Fallah told MAIL TODAY.
"My state of mind is the same with which I’ve bowled in the entire Ranji Trophy tournament. It’s because if you treat a game differently you’ll lose your focus and personality. I’ll bowl my best in the final, like I’ve been doing this season,” he said.
Maharashtra will play Karnataka in the final in Hyderabad, a neutral venue, from Wednesday. Fallah is thinking about neither.
"I have played against Karnataka two-three times. The venue too is not on my mind; it doesn’t matter. Our team is enjoying the occasion,” he informed.
Fallah, 28, has been having a dream season. He began extremely poorly, taking two wickets in the first three matches. So when he was dropped, against Andhra, no one was surprised. But the coach and team management brought him back after just one match and since then it has only been an upward swing for Fallah.
"After taking just one wicket in the first three matches and getting dropped, I have taken 29 wickets in five games,” he points out.
The Pune-based Fallah says big matches challenge him to perform better and motivate him to duel with the best of batsmen. Those opportunities, however, have been few and far between for him as Maharashtra have been languishing in the lower groups in recent years.
First, they were placed in the Plate Division (till 2011-12) and when the Ranji format was changed in 2012-13, they were in Group B, the middle one of the three pools. A poor performance last year meant that the state was demoted to Group C, the bottom placed pool.
"I somehow don’t get bagful of wickets in Plate. You can say that has been a sort of problem with me. Since we have been playing in the higher divisions, I have been bowling well. I’ve taken a lot of wickets in the higher divisions, including 17 in the last two Ranji knock-out matches (against Mumbai in quarter-finals and 10 against Bengal in semi-finals). I’ve now taken around 150 wickets in the upper pools (since making debut in 2007-08),” he emphasised.
Fallah admits to not being able to motivate himself enough against weaker teams.
"In lower groups, it’s also at the back of the mind that whether or not performances in the lower division would count at all. That’s what I feel, and I guess everyone would be thinking the same way: 'If I take 50 wickets, would those count?’ Big teams bring out the best in me; I’m keener to perform better against them,” he said.
Fallah picked his seven-wicket match haul against 40-time Ranji champions Mumbai in the quarter-finals in their own backyard, the Wankhede Stadium, as the best this season.
"It has to be my most satisfying performance because Mumbai scored 402 in their first innings, in which I took four wickets, we bundled them out for a mere 129 in the second innings, and I captured three. I was motivated because we had conceded a 122-run first-innings lead and were virtually out of the match at that stage,” he said.
"Playing on their home ground, Mumbai were on top and if they wanted they could have batted us out of the match by occupying the crease for long in the second innings. But we made a superb effort to bowl them out for 129. That turned the match around, as we won by an emphatic eight wickets, that too within four days (of the five-day game).”
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