It was a kind of atmosphere where commitment and spirit defied all the odds. It was a journey of hard work and belief in each other’s ability. From being tagged as the underdog to the eventual journey to the semifinals of the biggest domestic competition in India was never a cake walk. On all counts and measures, 2000-01 was the year to remember for the cricket fans of the state.
The scenario concerning Orissa cricket in the Ranji Trophy had generally been constant. A second or third place in the East Zone which helps them qualify for the next stage and an early exit there on, be it super league or knock out till BCCI applied the plate and elite group system.
But in 2000-01 season, the script had undergone a metamorphosis. The team finished first in the zone easily topping the table with 29 points, ten ahead of second placed Assam. Fancied Bengal, for years the kingpin in the zone, did not escape the Orissa `cyclone.’ For the first time in 43 years, Orissa defeated their mighty neighbours – and on their home turf at the Eden Gardens. Besides, they beat Tripura and Assam and only Bihar managed to salvage three points from a drawn game in which Orissa clearly had the upper hand.
Odisha had had a great journey from the onset and they topped the East Zone by a distance and defeated Jammu Kashmir and Madhya Pradesh in the Pre- Quarter Final and Quarter Final matches respectively before the eventual champions Baroda went to the finals with a first innings lead over Odisha in the semifinal. After a dismal performance in the first innings, RR Parida, P Jayachandra and Pravanjan Mullick batted with a lot of gusto to draw the game but that was never enough. In previous two knock out encounters, Jammu Kashmir were trounced by a huge 420 runs in the Pre Quarter Final game at the Barabati Stadium and MP although offered some resistance but couldn’t surge home because of one of many more century partnerships between Pravanjan Mullick and Rashmi Ranjan Parida. Chasing 192 runs in the last day, Odisha were tottering on 53/2 but Mullick and Parida took Odisha home easily.
How did this resurgence come about? It would be easy to say that the presence of India players Shiv Sundar Das and Debasish Mohanty had done much to inject a new found confidence in the side. There is no doubt Das and Mohanty had inspired Orissa to greater efforts by their own deeds. In the league stage for example, while the opening batsman and skipper made 257 runs at an average of 51.40. Mohanty did much to shape Orissa’s triumphs and finished with 26 wickets at 12.19 apiece, including an eleven wicket haul against Bengal.
But Orissa’s impressive performance had not revolved only around Das and Mohanty. Another India international, Sanjay Raul, the captain in the absence of Das, topped the averages in the league stage with 413 runs at 82.60 with two hundreds. Rashmi Ranjan Parida scored 274 runs in the league stage at an average of 68.50. Pravanjan Mullick’s batting, the all-round qualities of Pinninti Jayachandra and the support Mohanty had received from Jagannath Das, Sanjay Sathpathy and Raul had all been important factors. In three innings against J & K and MP he had scored 220, 162 and 64 not out. That took his tally for the season so far up to 720. Sanjay Raul scored his third century of the season against J & K. And the partnership between Mullick (191) and Parida (220) which realised 358 runs for the fourth wicket against J & K was the highest for any team this season. Orissa’s confidence was perhaps best illustrated by the fact that they were unperturbed by MP’s imposing first innings total of 437. Methodically, they replied with 479. But they couldn’t cross the semi hurdle despite commendable efforts.
Managing a slot in the semifinal of a tournament like Ranji Trophy and getting close to a shot at the biggest prize of Indian domestic circuit was itself an accomplishment. After a constant show both with the willow and leather, Odisha players constantly raised their game to deliver the killers punch till the Quarterfinals.
Odisha cricket doesn’t have much to boast about apart from the success of Mohanty and Das at the international level, albeit for a little time, the story of 2000-01 shall always be a part of history and that goes beyond any doubt.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: – (Bastab K Parida, is a sports commentator and writer based on Cuttack. Apart from Sports, he also writes on sociological problems and aspects of society.)