Thirty-seven teams, 160 matches, nine rounds, three knockout clashes, one grand finale, and what a spectacle it was.
As the curtains come down on the 2018-19 Ranji Trophy season, ESPNcricinfo's Hemant Brar, Shashank Kishore and Saurabh Somani sat down to pick the team of the tournament. Performances in the top three groups and the knockouts were given more weightage, which explains the omissions of notable performers from the Plate group including the season's top run-getter Milind Kumar and the top wicket-taker Ashutosh Aman.
1. Priyank Panchal (Gujarat) - 898 runs, 17 innings, average 59.86
The season's highest run-getter during Gujarat's march to their maiden title in 2016-17, Panchal shrugged off an indifferent follow-up season to top his state's run-charts this time around. That he did so with the added responsibility of captaincy in Parthiv Patel's absence for the most part lent greater weight to his performances. His four hundreds and five half-centuries propelled Gujarat to the quarter-finals, and also brought him back into the India A mix for the unofficial Tests against England Lions.
2. Abhimanyu Easwaran (Bengal) - 861 runs, 11 innings, average 95.66
The 23-year-old made a compelling case to be considered as the third opener for the Test team. He didn't feature in the first part of the season because of a stint with India A in New Zealand. The confidence of playing a higher level of cricket showed, as he racked up three hundreds and as many half-centuries. His unbeaten 201 kept Bengal in the hunt for a knockouts berth until the last day of the group stage, as he helped convert a 260-run deficit into a 132-run lead, before they ran out of time to push for an outright win. A game earlier, he struck an aggressive 211-ball 183 not out against Delhi as Bengal hunted down 322, their highest chase in Ranji Trophy history.
3. Wasim Jaffer (VIdarbha) - 1037 runs, 15 innings, average 69.13
Ten Ranji finals, ten titles. How's that for conversion rate? While many of his contemporaries have exchanged bats for mics in the commentary box, the 40-year-old showed no signs of slowing down, not just scoring runs for fun but also mentoring Vidarbha's next generation of batsmen. He remains the only batsman to have made 1000 or more runs in two separate Ranji seasons. If not for the two runs he missed against Saurashtra on a Rajkot turner, Jaffer could have recorded four successive hundreds this season.
4. Shubman Gill (Punjab) - 728 runs, nine innings, average 104
Player of the tournament at the Under-19 World Cup, a breakout IPL season, and a breakout first-class season - that was Gill's 2018 in a nutshell. More than the runs he made, the manner in which he struck them, at a bruising strike-rate of 104, exhibited tremendous self-confidence. The runs didn't go unnoticed as he earned an India cap exactly a year after scoring a match-winning century against Pakistan in the Under-19 World Cup semi-final. His 268 against Tamil Nadu was a standout performance in a game where no other batsman made a hundred.
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5. Rinku Singh (Uttar Pradesh) - 953 runs, 13 innings, average 105.88
Rinku Singh, whose claim to fame before this season was a big IPL paycheque, turned out to be the crisis man for Uttar Pradesh. A left-hand batsman who doesn't hesitate to play his shots, he often put opposition teams on the back foot with his counter-attacks. Playing according to his strengths and not letting the match situation dictate terms, he hit four hundreds in the tournament, second only to Milind Kumar's mark.
6. Akshay Wadkar (Vidarbha, wk) - 725 runs, 16 innings, average 60.41, 27 dismissals
He hit a century and the winning runs in his debut season last year, and followed it up with an equally impressive tally in 2018-19. He isn't an imposing batsman, but his dour methods and tenacity to fight through tough spells - like he did to arrest a top-order wobble to make a gritty 48 against Railways - has impressed the team management. Behind the stumps, he wasn't just a chirpy presence but also extremely reliable, particularly impressive with his nifty footwork against spin.
7. Dharmendrasinh Jadeja (Saurashtra) - 59 wickets, 19 innings, average 27.16, best: 7 for 55
He has been around for quite some time now but this was the breakout season for left-arm spinner Dharmendrasinh Jadeja. Leading the Saurashtra spin attack in the absence of his namesake Ravindra, his 59 scalps put him fifth on the all-time list of wickets in a season. Often touted as someone who only takes wickets on the spinning tracks of Rajkot, he proved that notion wrong as well. Twenty-nine of his 59 wickets came at away venues, and at a better strike rate (48.9) than at home (53.2).
8. Aditya Sarwate (Vidarbha) - 55 wickets, 19 innings, average 19.67, best: 6 for 43
Two left-arm spinners in an XI can be one too many, but the weight of Sarwate's match-winning 11-for in the final couldn't be ignored. In addition to his wickets, his 49 to revive a floundering second innings in a low-scoring match was invaluable. Far from a permanent member in the XI when the season started, he ensured there were little doubts over who Vidarbha would turn to should they feature just one spinner going forward.
9. Jaydev Unadkat (Saurashtra, captain) - 39 wickets, 14 innings, average 17.17, best: 7 for 86
Bowling aside, Unadkat makes the XI on the strength of his leadership and the 'brand of cricket' he's tried to bring into the Saurashtra set-up. He took over the leadership from the retired Jaydev Shah midway through the season, and immediately left his mark. His empowering of young players like Vishwarajsinh Jadeja, Harvik Desai and Snell Patel, and their response to a receptive leader, augurs well for the team's immediate future. With the ball, Unadkat dispelled notions of him being merely a T20 bowler. Bowling with improved speeds with the ability to reverse the old ball, his long spells and intensity always kept Saurashtra in the game, like in the semi-final and final against Karnataka and Vidarbha respectively.
ALSO READ: 'I am going to work my pants off and do well' - Unadkat
10. Umesh Yadav (Vidarbha) - 23 wickets, six innings, average 12.26, best: 7 for 48
How to channel the disappointment of Australia, where he played just one Test? By bowling his side to victories with Man-of-the-Match efforts in the quarters and semis. First, he vanquished inexperienced Uttarakhand and then sent Kerala packing on what he termed the 'spiciest pitch I've bowled on' in Wayanad. His 12-for blasted Kerala out in precisely four sessions. He couldn't feature in Vidarbha's triumph last season, but at the first sign of availability, he bowled with venom and intensity that made him such a fearsome red-ball bowler two years ago when Australia toured India.
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11. Tanveer-ul-Haq (Rajasthan) - 51 wickets, 20 innings, average 18.52, best: 6 for 42
One half of a formidable left-arm pace combine with Aniket Choudhary, Tanveer brought his A game to become the first Rajasthan bowler to take 50 wickets in a season. He lacks pace, but his ability to trouble batsmen with subtle movement off the deck made him a tough proposition. Rajasthan lost the quarter-final to Karnataka in a tight finish, but Tanveer's season was stellar - an average of 18.52 and a strike rate of 40.3, while bowling more overs than anyone else in the team.