The performance of the Tamil Nadu State cricket team in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy has become the talk of the town. After a long-drawn struggle during the tournament, where they managed to remain invincible throughout the league stage and the playoffs, Tamil Nadu team, led by the veteran cricketer, Dinesh Karthik won their second SMAT tournament in history.
Placed in Elite, Group B, alongside teams like Bengal, Jharkhand, Assam, Hyderabad, and Odisha, the TN team had a tough challenge at hand. Along with them, the teams like Punjab, Bihar, Haryana, and Baroda were the others who remain undefeated during the league stages, but no other team apart from TN were able to maintain the winning streak till the end.
The team’s captain, Dinesh Karthik was the one who led the team from the front. And, assisting him in their campaign were, N Jagadeesan, Murugan Ashwin, and M Mohammed all of whom starred in their own capacities to make their team reach the title.
Their campaign started off their run in the tournament, in a match where they faced the team from Jharkhand. And, the way they won that game, it was not just a valiant effort from the team but, also a statement that they were here to conquer. From then on, there was no looking back for the team. They crushed Assam in the following game by a massive 10 wicket margin.
The team were in the truest sense undefeatable. The assassination of Odisha followed, which was backed up by the defeat the team handed to Hyderabad. Before the quarter-final, the team faced against Bengal in their last match of the group stages. And, they made sure that their momentum, was untouched as they won that game by a margin of 8 wickets.
Then came the all-important stage, the playoffs, where in the first game, the quarter-finals, they were pitted against, Himachal Pradesh. That match as every other game in the tournament was won by the team by a hefty margin of 5 wickets with 13 balls remaining in the match. The Semi-finals came in the form of a match against Rajasthan, but this time it was a relatively tough battle when compared to the other matches, as the time in which they won was a longer stretched one.
The final face off was against Baroda and Tamil Nadu
In the all-important final match of the tournament, the challenge of another undefeated team, Baroda awaited them. But, they managed to stick together and luck came in by their side to help them literally cruise to a win. The Tamil Nadu team had done well, the entire tournament, chasing down totals set by the other team in the second inning, and in this game too, they got the chance and did not fail.
They chased down the total of 120 runs set by the Baroda team in 18 overs, with 7 wickets still in their hand. That was it, they have crowned the champions of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy 2020/21. It was a win that came after 14 years for the team, and the celebrations of the players on and off the field said it all. Tamil Nadu’s last tournament win had come under the captaincy of Dinesh Karthik too, and the special feeling of lifting the trophy of such stature, in such a long time for him, especially when he is in the twilight of his career is no mean feat. The last win was in the 2006-07 season, which was the first season of the tournament, and after that, it was again in this season that they lifted the cup.
Many may not realize this, but the advent of the Tamil Nadu Premier League. This tournament has helped this white ball dominance status of Tamil Nadu in the best ways possible. The team’s and the tournament’s top scorer overall, N Jagadeesan, is a player who was bred in the tournament. Players from the state team who have made it into the Indian team, and have made a name for themselves, like Washington Sundar and T Natarajan, are players who got a lot of white-ball cricket’s experience playing alongside the best cricket players of the state, courtesy of the TNPL.
Many players from Tamil Nadu Premier League have come into the side and were contributors in this victory too, was all the result of a tournament that many may not consider it to be that important. And, this SMAT win would also give the state team’s administration and the players themselves a lot of confidence, and it should not be a surprise to anyone if they rise in the Indian domestic circuit to become a powerhouse of a team.
The only thing that they need to do is improve on their record in the longer format of the game, and the kind of player and the captain that Dinesh Karthik is, he would surely want to get this change in as soon as possible. The players will need to hit the nets with the red ball even more and train harder to play cricket for longer durations.