Cricket is a funny game and 24 hours can make a world of difference. Both are clichés. Both rang true on Wednesday (January 4), resulting in ecstasy for Gujarat and agony for Jharkhand in their Ranji Trophy 2016-17 semifinal at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Ground in Nagpur.
Gujarat seemed down and out at 100 for 4 when play began on the fourth day, having lost four of their main batsmen and only 82 ahead. By the time play ended, they had wrapped up a 123-run win and made a triumphant entry into their first Ranji Trophy final since 1950-51, and only their second ever.
Set a target of 235, Jharkhand subsided for 111 in just 41 overs, with Jasprit Bumrah breaking the back of the batting line-up on the way to 6 for 29.
It was his third five-wicket haul of the season and second in two matches after the 5 for 41 against Odisha in the quarterfinal. It was also his best-ever first-class figures.
While Bumrah had the lion’s share of the wickets, RP Singh had an equal hand in the win, with 3 for 25. The veteran bowler’s figures after six overs were an incredible 6-6-0-2.
That Gujarat had a fighting total to defend was down to Manprit Juneja’s 81, equally full of classy drives as missed chances, and Chirag Gandhi’s plucky 51. The innings ended at 252 for 9, with Rush Kalaria absent due to a shoulder injury. That put Gujarat 234 ahead, a total that would have given both teams cause for hope heading into the fourth innings.
Only one team translated that hope into the fulfilment of a dream though.
In spite of being handicapped by Kalaria’s injury – his absence on the field was felt more, as he led his side’s wicket charts coming into this game – Gujarat swatted aside Jharkhand’s challenge. Bumrah and RP Singh breathed fire in their opening spells, and never let up.
RP Singh used all his nous, taking the pace off the ball, but keeping his wrist position sublime to get it to dart around throughout his overs. With the combination of no pace to work with and movement to counter, the naturally free-stroking Jharkhand batsmen were restricted. At the other end, Bumrah – quicker but equally accurate – didn’t give the batsmen any room to work with.
Jharkhand lost both openers – Pratyush Singh and Sumit Kumar – for nought inside the first eight overs. Saurabh Tiwary, the captain, looked to be positive and for some time it seemed his tactics would pay off. By getting bat to ball and gathering some boundaries, Tiwary seemed to have taken some of the sting off the bowlers until RP Singh did him in, rapped on the pads, beaten by the swing and right in front.
Much would have been expected of Ishank Jaggi, Jharkhand’s leading run-getter this season, but he under-edged a fairly innocuous Hardik Patel delivery onto his stumps for just 1, leaving Jharkhand 27 for 4. Jaggi’s wicket was a body blow, and the batsman’s disappointment at getting out was mirrored in Gujarat’s delight.
Virat Singh (17) and Ishan Kishan (19) did try to put their heads down and had added 36 when Bumrah’s second spell wrecked Jharkhand completely.
Bumrah bowled six overs, taking 4 for 7, sending Jharkhand tumbling from an already precarious 50 for 4 to a hopeless 72 for 8. Bumrah’s canniness was on show each time he came on. He had overdone the short-ball ploy in Jharkhand’s first innings, and this time around, the bouncer was only used as a surprise weapon. The movement he generated resulted in plenty of catches behind the wicket, with Parthiv Patel taking two and two more going to the slips.
Fittingly, it was RP Singh who ended things with Parthiv taking a catch off Vikash Singh.
Jharkhand will be left to ponder the missed chances when Gujarat resumed in the morning. Within the first half hour, Juneja had been put down by Kaushal Singh off Ajay Yadav when on 10. Then Shahbaz Nadeem missed a run-out opportunity from cover-point shortly after. Juneja though, shrugged all that aside to pick off runs where available with flowing drives.
Later on, with Gandhi and Bumrah batting – effectively the last pair due to Kalaria’s injury – Gandhi let Bumrah face a mere six balls in a stand that spanned 54 deliveries to add valuable runs.
Nadeem got yet another five-wicket haul, ending with 5 for 69, but with Juneja and Gandhi resisting well, Gujarat got to a total that they would have thought was competitive. It turned out to be match-winning.