MV Sridhar (middle) was one of the shrewdest brains in Indian cricket
MV Sridhar (centre) was one of the shrewdest brains in Indian cricket

November 24, 1997. After two rain-washed days at Chepauk, Maturi Venkat ‘MV’ Sridhar declared the Hyderabad innings closed with a mere 30 on the board. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at a brilliant move by one of the shrewdest brains of Indian cricket.

Let us start this article with the Ranji Trophy rules of 1997-98. The usual group stage matches (one for each zone) were there. The top 15 teams, 3 from each zone, went to the next stage. Of the 6 South Zone teams, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Hyderabad were easily the best three, but one could expect Andhra, Kerala, or Goa to pull off an upset here and there.

The group stages also involved the points: 8 for outright wins; 5 for achieving first innings lead in draws; 3 for conceding first innings lead in draws; 2 for abandoned matches (or no result as per first innings scores); and no point for outright defeats.

When Tamil Nadu hosted Hyderabad at Chepauk on November 22 (Karnataka vs Andhra started at Vijayawada the same day, as did Kerala vs Goa at Panaji), the situation did not look too bright for Hyderabad.

 

M

W

L

D1

D2

D0

A

Points

Karnataka

4

2

1

1

24

Tamil Nadu

2

2

10

Hyderabad

3

1

1

1

10

Andhra

4

1

1

1

1

10

Goa

2

1

1

8

Kerala

3

1

2

6

W=outright wins; L=outright defeats; D1=achieving first innings leads in draws; D2=conceding first innings lead in draws; D0=no result as per first innings scores; A=abandoned.

Karnataka were at the top, while Tamil Nadu, Hyderabad, and Andhra were tied at second. However, Karnataka had played an extra match, Tamil Nadu had two matches in hand, and Hyderabad had one.

The match

Arvind Kumar and Daniel Manohar opened batting after Robin Singh put Hyderabad in. Both openers fell in quick succession — Arvind to Divakar Vasu for 9, and Manohar to Robin Singh for 15. This brought wicketkeeper Youraj Singh at the crease.

VVS Laxman was, of course, there. The opening attack of Sadagoppan Mahesh and Robin Singh had been worn down, but Robin Singh introduced Margashayam Venkataramana. Things were getting difficult for Hyderabad. They crawled to 30 for 2 in 19.3 overs after the skies opened.

No more play was possible on Day One, or even Day Two. With further rains predicted, the match was as good as doomed. In a situation where a single point could make a difference, it seemed the teams would have to share two points apiece.

It had rained in Vijayawada as well, and Karnataka were placed solidly at 374 for 4 against Andhra after two days. Kerala, on the other hand, had bowled out Goa for 339 before reaching 53 for 1.

If Andhra managed 5 points and Hyderabad a mere 2, it would mean a clear 3 points lead for Andhra. Though they would have one match in hand, another abandoned match would knock Hyderabad out of the competition. On the other hand, if either Goa or Kerala managed an outright win, there will be another team in the fray…

The declaration

Sridhar thought hard over the matter. He declared at 30 for 2 as soon as there was some chance of play. The reasoning was perfect: with heavy rain predicted, Tamil Nadu would never be able to push for an outright win.

If the match was abandoned before Tamil Nadu reached 30, the teams would get 2 points apiece, which they were getting anyway. However, if Tamil Nadu managed to go past 30, it would mean 5 points for Tamil Nadu and 3 for Hyderabad, which was an improvement on 2.

So Sadagoppan Ramesh walked out with Vasant Kumar, and scored 17 before he was snared by Vanka Pratap. Robin Singh promoted Sridharan Sriram over Reuben Paul and himself.

On the other hand, Pratap bowled unchanged, while Sridhar kept shuffling Manohar, Arvind, and Noel David at the other end. Tamil Nadu eventually went past Hyderabad’s score, crawling to 33 for 1 from 22.5 overs. Then it poured down again, and play never resumed. Hyderabad managed to obtain 3 from the match, while Tamil Nadu got 5.

They need not have worried. Mohammad Azharuddin joined them for the last group match against Goa at Panaji, replacing Sridhar as captain. Narender Singh (7 for 24 and 3 for 24) proved to be more than a handful for Goa, skittling them for 66 and 166. Things were not easy when Hyderabad batted. Nine of their batsmen managed a mere 47 between them. However, Laxman (145*) and Azhar (87) made sure Hyderabad won by an innings. The final table read:

 

M

W

L

D1

D2

D0

A

Points

Karnataka

5

2

2

1

29

Tamil Nadu

5

1

4

28

Hyderabad

5

1

1

2

1

21

Andhra

5

1

1

2

1

13

Goa

3

1

1

1

13

Kerala

5

1

4

12

W=outright wins; L=outright defeats; D1=achieving first innings leads in draws; D2=conceding first innings lead in draws; D0=no result as per first innings scores; A=abandoned.

What followed?

– Hyderabad made it to the semi-final where they lost a thriller against Karnataka by 1 wicket. Kanwaljit Singh claimed 7 for 38 to go with 7 for 62 from the first innings, and Karnataka were left to score 16 when Mansur Ali Khan (not Pataudi) joined Dodda Ganesh. They pulled it off.

– Karnataka eventually won the title following a mammoth 483-run first innings lead over Uttar Pradesh in the final at Chinnaswamy.

Brief scores:

Hyderabad 30 for 2 decl. drew with Tamil Nadu 33 for 1.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)