Amidst a swathe of heart-breaking setbacks for Tamil Nadu in the Ranji Trophy, these two triumphs gleam.

In a tournament steeped in history — the competition began in 1934-35 — the State team has come up trumps only twice. On the first occasion, the Balu Alaganan-led Tamil Nadu (then known as Madras) defeated the mighty Holkar by 46 runs in the final at Indore in 1955.

After a long wait, Tamil Nadu regained the title in 1988 when S. Vasudevan's men outplayed Railways by an innings and 144 runs in the final at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium.

Lakshmipathy Balaji's team meets Rajasthan in the final — this will be Tamil Nadu's 11th appearance in the summit clash — at Chepauk from January 19 and it is time to recall the two moments of sweet success in what has been a rocky ride for the State in the country's premier domestic tournament.

Formidable outfit

Holkar was a formidable outfit in the 50s with cricketers such as skipper S. Mushtaq Ali, Chandu Sarwate and B. Nimbalkar adorning the line-up.

Madras had outstanding players too in C.D. Gopinath, A.G. Kripal Singh and S. Balakrishnan. The stage was set for a gripping final.

Speaking to The Hindu here on Tuesday, Gopinath said, “Holkar put us in on a matting wicket. They were a strong opponent but our belief was high.”

Madras made 478 in its first innings with Gopinath, known was his scintillating cover-drives, notching up a vital 133. The visitor made a challenging 478.

After a close race for the lead, Holkar was bowled out for 417. The contest, though, continued to twist and turn. Madras made 311 in its second innings with Kripal Singh, known for his technical expertise, coming up with a knock of 91. There was sting in the Tamil Nadu lower order with captain Alaganan remaining unbeaten with 56.

Chasing 372 in the fourth innings, the powerful Holkar line-up was confident going into the final day. Mushtaq Ali, light of feet and brave of heart, blitzed a 51. Holkar eased to 212 for three on the fifth day. Then, events began to unfold.

Recalled Gopinath, “The Holkar players were so sure of victory that they even had a group picture taken at lunch in anticipation of a win.”

Combination of factors

A combination of factors had also forced Gopinath to lead the side in the decisive phase. “Alaganan was injured and the designated vice-captain, B.C. Alwa, was not quite able to check the flow of runs in the first hour on the last day. So both Alaganan and Alwa, who became slightly nervous, approached me to skipper the side. It was slightly embarrassing for me but I accepted the challenge,” revealed Gopinath.

Gopinath decided to choke the Holkar batsmen. “Kripal, who bowled off-spin, was asked to operate to a middle and leg-stump line with a packed on-side field. And left-arm spinner M.K. Murugesh, who spun the ball away from the right-hander, was told to bowl outside the off-stump. The Holkar batsmen, who had to go for runs after conceding the lead, were forced to hit against the spin.”

The Holkar batsmen, eventually, succumbed to the pressure created. Kripal scalped four and Murugesh five.

“It was a memorable win. This time it was our turn to take a group picture,” said Gopinath with a laugh.

Different scenario

It was a different kind of final in 1988 at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium with a strong Tamil Nadu outfit bulldozing Railways in the final.

Railways, that won the toss, was dismissed for 317 with No. 3 N.K. Churi scoring 112. In fact, the side collapsed from 172 for one with off-spinner M. Venkataramana picking up seven for 94.

Captain and left-arm spinner Vasudevan recalled, “Venkataramana really spun the ball from a high-arm action. He also bowled a telling line.”

With all-round strength and depth in its line-up, Tamil Nadu batted Railways out of the contest piling up 709.

V.B. Chandrasekar (89), V. Sivaramakrishnan (94), Robin Singh (131) and L. Sivaramakrishnan (101) excelled. “The left-handed Robin, in particular, batted very well as he had done the whole season. He was in excellent form that season,” said Vasudevan.

Railways was bundled out for 248 in its second innings. Vasudevan, who had a potent arm-ball, picked up seven for 59.

“I remember that spell and the ball that pitched outside leg to spin across Churi. We had excellent close catchers too with the likes of L. Sivaramakrishnan, V.B. Chandrasekar, V. Sivaramakrishnan and Robin being brilliant.”

‘It was a heady victory,” said Vasudevan .

Brief scores:

Final (1955): At Indore: Madras 478 (S. Balakrishnan 78, A.G. Kripal Singh 75, C.D. Gopinath 133, A.K. Sarangapani 74 not out, H.G. Gaekwad four for 137) & 311 (Kripal Singh 91, B. Alaganan 56 not out) bt Holkar 417 (N.R. Nivsarkar 85, S. Mushtaq Ali 55, S.R. Jadhav 77) & 326 (Mushtaq Ali 51, C.T. Sarwate 56, R.P. Singh 54, Kripal Singh four for 113, M.K. Murugesh five for 114).

Final (1988): At Madras: Railways 317 (Yusuf Ali Khan 87, N.K. Churi 112, M. Venkataramana seven for 94) & 248 (S. Vasudevan seven for 59) lost to Tamil Nadu 709 (V.B. Chandrasekar 89, P.C. Prakash 50, V. Sivaramakrishnan 94, Robin Singh 131, L. Sivaramakrishnan 101, D. Girish 55).

Keywords: Ranji Trophy

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