Memories of the Ranji Trophy triumph of 1988 still remain vividly etched in the minds of the players. Here’s what some of them have to say

There were celebrations in the Tamil Nadu dressing room. The year was 1988 and the month, March. The weather was hot but the home cricketers were hotter at Chepauk.

The foremost prize in domestic cricket was lifted by S. Vasudevan and his band of merry men. The side played with freedom; without the fear of failure. The Ranji Trophy was Tamil Nadu’s, only for the second time in its history.

“There was enormous confidence in that side. Railways made over 300 in the final and someone in the side said we will make double of what they score. We notched up a massive 709. That, to my mind, is belief,” reveals Vasudevan.

Versatile

A versatile unit, Tamil Nadu indeed was. “We played our strokes, got the runs and had the bowling to dismiss sides. It was a strong team,” says all-rounder Robin Singh who, with 131, top-scored for the host in the final against Railways.

At full strength, this Tamil Nadu side was quite a force. K. Srikkanth and V.B. Chandrasekhar formed an explosive opening pair. The talented W.V. Raman walked in one-drop. P.C. Prakash and V. Sivaramakrishnan, an experienced campaigner, lent weight to the middle-order.

All-rounders Robin Singh, L. Sivaramakrishnan, Bharat Arun and Vasudevan, who followed, lent considerable depth to the line-up. D. Girish kept wickets and M. Venkataramana, in his first season for Tamil Nadu, was the in-form off-spinner.

The side’s batting had firepower and reliability. Robin Singh and B. Arun proved an effective pace duo and Venkataramana’s turn and bounce combined with Vasudevan’s teasing left-arm spin. Although his best days as a leg-spinner were behind, L. Sivaramakrishnan could still send down a few handy overs for variation. Simply put, it was a well-rounded Tamil Nadu team.

When Srikkanth and Raman were not available for the final owing to India duties, attacking opener U.R. Radhakrishnan and strokeful middle-order batsman M. Senthilnathan stepped in. Tamil Nadu was not short of replacements either.

The Tamil Nadu plan was simple. Put up big runs on the board, whether the side batted first or second, get early wickets with pace and then impose itself on the contest with a quality spin attack. The ploy worked.

And the batting boomed. Tamil Nadu made 578 in the quarterfinals against Uttar Pradesh, 601 in the last four clash against Punjab and then 709 in the summit clash.

The spinners, thus, had the runs to back them as they created the pressure; the fields could be attacking.

To make matters worse for the batting sides, the Tamil Nadu team possessed one of the best cordons of fielders close to the bat. Robin, V. Sivaramakrishnan, L. Sivaramakrishnan, Chandrasekhar and Vasudevan hardly allowed any chance to slip by.

Best catching side

“That was probably the best catching side from Tamil Nadu that I had been part of,” remembers Robin. The blend of anticipation and reflexes around the willow added teeth to spin.

“Vasudevan was a fine bowler. He was accurate, spun the ball and sent down a terrific arm-ball. We really jelled as a combination,” says Venkataramana.

The two complemented each other. If one was the strike bowler, the other donned a supporting role. If Venkataramana claimed seven for 94 in the first innings of the final, Vasudevan closed out the match with seven for 59 in the second.

Tamil Nadu was home by a massive innings and 144 runs.

“The thing I recall most about that triumph was that we were a very happy bunch. We were delighted at one another’s success and the team-spirit was tremendous,” recollects Arun.

Twenty-five years on, Tamil Nadu is yet to lay its hands on the coveted Ranji Trophy again. The class of 1988 should inspire L. Balaji’s men in their quest for glory this season.

What a season that was!