No sporting season is complete without the stirring story of an underdog rising to become the conqueror. So we have Vidarbha this time - an unfancied and unglamorous team at the start of the season - holding the Ranji Trophy for the first time, totally unexpectedly. The scenes of joy that unfolded at the Holkar Cricket Stadium in Indore on Monday captured the tale perfectly, adding a welcome chapter to the annals of domestic cricket. Led by Faiz Fazal, a seasoned batsman, the team defeated the vastly more experienced outfit from Delhi, who were hoping to win their eighth title in their 16th appearance in the Ranji finals.
Vidarbha, in contrast, had never progressed beyond the quarterfinals of the tournament before, but they turned giant-killers this time, riding on a combination of planning, hard work, discipline and team-work, backed by some eye-catching individual performances. If their four wins in the league phase were not impressive enough, they trounced Kerala by a massive margin in the quarterfinals and knocked out the in-form team of the season, Karnataka, in a thrilling semifinal. When it came to the title clash, it was all about seizing the moment, and they found the right men for the job in centurion Akshay Wadkar and medium-pacer Rajneesh Gurbani. Amidst the Vidarbha performers, Gurbani was a revelation. The 24-year-old dismantled Karnataka in the semifinals with a 12-wicket haul and earned the man of the final prize with a further eight wickets for a total haul of 39 in six games.
Vidarbha's rise this season and Gujarat's triumph last year have underlined the rise of smaller teams and praise is due to the Board of Control for Cricket in India for the way they have nurtured the domestic structure. The Vidarbha Cricket Association also played their part, roping in coach Chandrakant Pandit, who was discarded by Mumbai despite guiding the team to the final last year and to three titles previously. Known as a disciplinarian, Pandit brought about a change in attitude in the Vidarbha outfit, instilling the winning mentality and a never-say-die spirit. The presence of the veteran Wasim Jaffer and Ganesh Satish €" a Ranji Trophy winner with Karnataka €" added an element of steel to the batting while Gurbani and off-spinner Akshay Wakhare brought incisiveness to the attack. Above all, they performed as a team right through to crown a superb run. Vidarbha's success could easily be dismissed as a flash in the pan but a glance at the lower rungs reveals a long-term plan. They were the champions in the Vijay Merchant Trophy under-16 tournament last year while the current bunch has enough young talent to keep the good phase going. Sport and predictability might not be constant companions but with a solid foundation in place, Vidarbha certainly have the capability to sustain the dream.