The long wait is over. Kerala have made it to the quarterfinals of the Ranji Trophy for the first time with an emphatic victory over Haryana in their final Group B game in Lahli on Tuesday.
The thumping win by an innings and eight runs helped Sachin Baby and Co. seal second place in the group behind toppers Gujarat.
Kerala have adopted a refreshingly aggressive game plan this season and have benefited from it. The Kerala Cricket Association deserves praise for roping in Dav Whatmore as the head coach of the team. The Australian has been able to strike a chord with the captain and the rest of the players.
Whatmore, who guided Sri Lanka to glory in the 1996 World Cup, adopted a 'horses for courses policy' in Kerala's campaign. It was evident in the must-win game against Haryana where the team played four seamers to make the most of the Lahli track. The think-tank dropped the in-form spin trio of Sijomon Joseph, K C Akshay and Fabid Ahmed, and brought in Sandeep Warrier, M D Nidheesh and Vinod Kumar. These three, along with pace spearhead Basil Thampi and all-rounder Jalaj Saxena, ensured Kerala bagged the 20 wickets to wrap up a memorable win.
Basil, who came in as night watchman, went on to crack a quickfire 60 too, which helped Kerala gain a big first innings lead of 181.
The two outstation professionals - Saxena and K B Arun Karthick - have pulled their weight this season. Saxena shone both with the bat and ball (482 runs and 38 wickets), while Karthick produced some vital knocks.
Sanju to the fore
Sanju Samson scored two hundreds and his second - a brilliant 175 - went a long way in Kerala turning the tables on Saurashtra in their previous game. The seasoned Rohan Prem played his role as the anchor man to perfection.
The rookie spin duo of Sijomon and Akshay have complemented Saxena. In fact, the two left-arm spinners put in such a splendid performance that the injured K S Monish was not missed.
The biggest plus was that Kerala registered five wins out of the six matches, with the lone loss coming to defending champions Gujarat in an away tie. The team won all four of their home games against Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir and Saurashtra in Thiruvananthapuram.
Sachin Baby and Co. made sure seasons of frustration were over. They can dream of bigger goals as the 5-day quarterfinals against Vidarbha begins at Surat on December 7.