Mumbai, Jan. 29 -- A measure of how much Indian cricket has to improve, to become a force in all seasons and against all oppositions, was on display in the Ranji Trophy final.
On their benign home turf, this Saurashtra batting line-up can make bowlers toil, but when given a track that assists the faster bowlers, like in the title clash at the Wankhede Stadium, their limitations lay exposed.
From the second-best side in the country, it was an embarrassing display to be bundled out for 82 in just 36.3 overs. The second innings shocker came after they had crashed to 148 on the opening day. As a result, the biggest game of the domestic calendar ended inside three days.
What should have been one of the most competitive matches of the tournament, turned out to be lopsided. The 2012-13 Ranji Trophy final proved to be a cakewalk for Mumbai, their first innings total of 355 was more than sufficient to win by an innings and 125 runs.
The 40th title for the hosts will go down as one of the easiest triumphs in their illustrious history. The wicket certainly offered assistance to the pace bowlers but held no demons to be termed unplayable, especially when compared to the surfaces on which England and Australia made India play during the 0-8 whitewash last season.
Raised on the featherbeds of Rajkot, the Saurashtra batsmen looked completely clueless when questions were asked by the bowlers with swing movement. The Mumbai bowling attack was made to look intimidating, but the fact is that the same team had achieved only one outright win in 10 games this season.
Footwork is the key to handling the moving ball, getting in line and playing close to the body. Then one has to have good judgment of leaving the ball. The lack of these skills was exposed on the first morning itself when Mumbai spearhead Dhawal Kulkarni shook the batsmen's confidence with a testing off-stump line. They did even worse in the second dig, reduced to 11 for five at one stage.
In a way, it was a reflection of what has ailed the country's cricket system and why we haven't been able to be consistently competitive overseas.
To be fair, the Indian board made an attempt this season to get better tracks in domestic cricket. But, not all associations seemed to have understood the reasoning behind the instructions to play on true wickets.
At the start of the season, as reported by HT, the Saurashtra Cricket Association had been issued instructions to avoid making flat tracks like the ones they had rolled out for the high-scoring Challenger Trophy matches. The lessons were not learnt, and while they can turn back and argue that their runners-up finish is still their best performance ever, not everyone is convinced about the true gains.
At the end of the farcical final, Saurashtra coach Debu Mitra agreed that their home ground needs to have sporting tracks. "I am going to talk to our association's president to have some wickets like these (pace-friendly). Only Cheteshwar Pujara, Ravindra Jadeja and Sitanshu Kotak can do well here as they play most of their cricket outside, the rest of our boys play on the perfect wickets at Rajkot. They have no experience of playing in these conditions."
For the record, Kulkarni claimed five wickets and skipper Ajit Agarkar four to star in Mumbai's victory on Monday.
Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.