Mumbai, for long the torchbearers of Indian domestic cricket, have finally clinched the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy with a sensational win over Himachal Pradesh in the final held in Kolkata. A fixture that looked like a low-scoring game turned out to be a close contest as both teams gave it their all. This win is particularly significant for Mumbai as it is their maiden domestic T20 title, coming after a long gap of 13 years since the tournament was first organised.
Road To The Finals
Both Mumbai and Himachal Pradesh finished the league stage at the top of their groups, with Mumbai winning five of their six group-stage games and Himachal winning four. While Ajinkya Rahane’s side succumbed to a defeat against Railways in their group A, Rishi Dhawan’s side remained unbeaten throughout the tournament before the finals.
Himachal Pradesh then had to fight through the knockout rounds in two high-scoring encounters against Bengal and Punjab, with Akash Vashisht and Sumeet Varma starring for the team with the bat. Mumbai on the other hand could breeze past Saurashtra and Vidarbha in the quarterfinals and the semifinals, courtesy of Shreyas Iyer’s consistent performance with the bat in the middle overs.
Himachal Struggle With The Bat
After entering their maiden Syed Mushtaq Ali final, Himachal Pradesh struggled with the bat in their innings as Mumbai’s Mohit Avasthi struck early blows by picking up the wickets of Ankush Bains and Sumeet Varma in his first spell. Himachal were down two wickets with just 20 runs on the board, with opener Prashant Chopra and Nikhil Gangta forced to rebuild their team’s innings.
Nikhil Gangta’s decision to fight back against Mumbai’s bowlers backfired when Tanush Kotian picked up his wicket in the 8th over, immediately followed by Nitin Sharma’s wicket the next ball. Himachal’s captain Rishi Dhawan failed to spark as he had to walk back to the pavilion for just one run, while opener Prashant Chopra fell to Prithvi Shaw’s brilliant dive behind the wickets. Himachal were 58/6 at this point, and the fixture looked to go Mumbai’s way.
But Himachal’s lower-order wasn’t ready to give away the game so quickly. Akash Vashisht combined with Ekant Sen battled through the middle overs to take Himachal’s total to 118 for the seventh wicket. Mayank Dagar’s blistering 12-ball 21-run innings took the tally to 143, a defendable total on the swing-friendly track of Eden Gardens.
Sarfaraz Stars for Mumbai
Mumbai’s chase began on a shaky note as Prithvi Shaw dispatched the ball to the boundary twice in the second over before falling to Rishi Dhawan. Dhawan also dispatched Mumbai’s skipper and former Indian Test captain Ajinkya Rahane for just one run in his second over, putting Himachal firmly back in the game.
Yashasvi Jaiswal and Shreyas Iyer steadied the innings for Mumbai, with Sarfaraz Khan joining them to steadily guide their team towards the required total. But after Shreyas Iyer’s dismissal in the 14th over, Mumbai quickly lost the wickets of Shivam Dube and Aman Hakim Khan, putting their chase in jeopardy. Himachal will regret the missed chances, as Mumbai were down to 116/6 after the end of 17 overs and only Sarfaraz Khan remained to spoil their party.
Mumbai needed 28 off the last three overs when a dropped catch by K Abhinay provided a lifeline for Sarfaraz Khan. The next over would prove to be costly for Abhinay and Himachal Pradesh, as Sarfaraz Khan dispatched the ball thrice to the boundary off his bowling. Tanush Kotian, the star for Mumbai with the ball, finished the game with a stunning six, delivering Mumbai its first-ever Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy.
Feeder Route for the Indian T20 League
While both the talent pool and viewership of the tournament are much smaller compared to the Indian T20 League, the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy is well on its way to becoming a feeder route for young uncapped Indian players to enter the top ranks of the Indian national team and the Indian T20 League.
With the mini-auction for the Indian T20 League coming up in December, almost all franchises have sent out scouts to the tournament to search for fresh talent. The likes of Samarth Vyas, Vidhwath Kaverappa and Vijaykumar Vyshak are very likely to be picked up by the franchises during the auction. The former has especially impressed with the bat for Saurashtra – scoring 314 runs in the tournament at an average of 52 and strike rate of 177.
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