The Rest of India Vs Ranji Trophy Champion team is always a special game as the best of Indian domestic circuit players participate in this high profile game.

When Mumbai won the Ranji trophy title for the 41st time, it emerged as one of the strongest unit which again stamped their authority in Indian domestic cricket. The Rest of India team selected by senior Indian Selection committee appeared to be lacking in some big names & stars in this team however it wasn’t so in terms of  talent or quality players.  Jaydev Unadkat and Sheldon Jackson who consistently performed for Saurashtra during the entire season 15-16 deservingly found their place in this Rest of India team.

Mumbai is known to be the supreme batting side over the period of time and they again proved it by scoring a mammoth 603 runs in their first innings in this all important game. The pitch was conducive for batting and Mumbai batsmen made full use of it. Jay Bista playing first season for Mumbai scored a handsome 100, Surya kumar Yadav scored a big hundred of 156, Shreyas Aiyer, the highest run scorer for season15-16 in India also chipped in with 50 plus. Akhil Herwadkar, Siddhesh Lad and Captain Aditya Tare also contributed with 50 plus runs, for Mumbai to reach to the total of 603 runs.

In Reply the Rest of India crumbled and was struggling to reach even half of the score of Mumbai. However thanks to a useful and impressive knock of Karun Nair, they managed to reach 306, leaving behind a huge deficit of 297 runs. At this stage of the game every one thought this game is over and only some miracle can bring the Rest of India team back in to this game.

But as we say “Cricket is the game of glorious uncertainties”, and on that note this game was far from over. Usually the team picked for Rest of India has very limited time to assemble well in advance, practice together and plan ahead. For this game also all the players from all parts of India assembled just a day before the game, so it was obvious that it was not a well knit unit as Mumbai was. But after conceding huge lead of 297 runs they backed each other up, planned well and more importantly executed it really well.

In the 2nd innings of Mumbai, the bowlers of Rest of India, particularly Jaydev Unadkat and Jayant Yadav bowled their heart out and due to the team effort they managed to bowl Mumbai out merely for 182 runs. This time around the Rest of India team looked determined in the field; they showed a lot of intent and purpose in their fielding effort on the field.

However the biggest challenge was lying ahead as the Rest of India needed 482 runs to win the game in little over four sessions. And to do this they had to do something which had happened only once in the history of first class cricket across the world.

The Rest of India had 133 overs to achieve this target, but 482 runs to win is a very huge target which required a solid batting performance from their top order batsmen. Common sense, clear planning and lots of patience with smart batting was the need of the hour.

The openers gave them a perfect start by playing cautiously with positive frame of mind, before K S Bharath got out on 43 when the total was 66, however at the end of 4th day the score was 100 for 1. That would have given some kind of hope to the team with 380 runs to score in 96 overs on the 5th and final day.

On the last day morning F Y Fazal and Sudip Chatterjee took them to 176 before Sudip got out. At this stage of the game Karun Nair walked in, and along with Fazal they started rotating the strike more swiftly adding 130 runs in 32 overs, which put their team right in to the drivers seat. Fazal scored excellent 127 however it was Karun Niar who scored quick 92 which took the game to another level, from where the impossible started looking possible. The game was nicely poised when Sheldon Jackson and Stuart Binny got together at the crease with 135 runs required of 26 overs. Both these batsmen not only showed their ability to play superb cricket shots but also ran hard between the wickets. The game was getting in to an intense pressure situation for both the teams and it required a lot of mental skills to get through to this game as winners.

Sheldon Jackson played a fantastic knock of 59 not out of 70 odd balls and Binny 54 of 51 balls, but the most important thing was to take the team to the finishing line of 480 and Jackson exactly did that. It was proud moment for the team Rest of India that they had done something which never happened in first class cricket in India and only the 2nd time in the history of first class cricket all over the world. Two Saurashtra boys namely Jaydev Unadkat and Sheldon Jackson played very big, important and crucial role in creating this history for their team.

I have seen lots of intense games of cricket as a player, as a spectator, as a cricket lover on television but this time around I had the privilege to observe this game as Match Referee of this game, who is supposed to be the neutral official of the game. But at the end of the day when I was seating in my room I, as a cricket fanatic thought I was blessed to be part of this outstanding and fascinating game of cricket and I realized that what I have seen on Brabourne stadium, Cricket club of India in those 5 days will remain in my memory lane for ever. I can only say- “what a game!!!”

- By Prakash Bhatt
P.B. (Prakash Bhatt is prominent and famous Cricketer from Saurashtra. He has played 51 first class matches and scored 3300 runs. He has been captain for Ranji Trophy team of Saurashtra. He played in Duleep Trophy and Deodhar Trophy for West Zone. He also played professional cricket in England and Kenya. Presently, he is official BCCI match referee.)