Stunning turnarounds, and Parida's last stand
The incredible victory I
All those clamouring about the lack of excitement in domestic first-class cricket, look no further than Gujarat and Saurashtra for inspiration. When the entire first day's play was washed out in Surat, expecting anything more than a first-innings result would have been optimistic. And when Saurashtra were sitting pretty on a lead of 130 with eight wickets in hand at the end of day three, with 'Mr Fevicol' Shitanshu Kotak at the crease, a draw seemed the logical outcome. Siddharth Trivedi and Salil Yadav, Gujarat's version of Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne, combined to take seven wickets as Saurashtra collapsed to 125. Gujarat were suddenly eyeing five points for an outright win out of nowhere, and were so surprised themselves that they lost eight batsmen chasing 196. It was left to Pratharesh Parmar, playing just his second first-class game, to steer Gujarat to an astonishing victory. And to add to the drama, it came in the last over of the match. Just for effect.
The incredible victory II
Nasik is not very far from Surat, where Maharashtra and Vidarbha were enacting a similar script in the Plate League. Vidarbha, with a narrow first-innings lead, also had eight wickets in hand going into the final day. Another dull draw seemingly loomed on the dreary domestic first-class landscape. However, Samad Fallah and Shrikant Mundhe, Maharashtra's version of the two Ws, needed only 18 overs to demolish Vidarbha for 61. Maharashtra gleefully knocked off the 80 needed for an unlikely nine-wicket win to move to the top of Group B with two outright victories. Who needs the first-innings lead?
The bluff, and then the glut
Eden Gardens trialled a fresh pitch for the match between Mumbai and Bengal, in preparation for the World Cup. The pitch there is usually Eden for the batsmen, but no one had any idea how this one would behave. "This is not a batsman's paradise. I think it will be a challenge to score runs on this wicket," Wasim Jaffer, the Mumbai captain, said on the eve of the game. Mumbai then proceeded to score 907 runs for the loss of nine wickets, including one double ton, three hundreds and two half-centuries. Jaffer himself made 73 and an unbeaten 104. He was not entirely bluffing though. Bengal managed less than one-third of what Mumbai dished out, and conceded a huge first-innings lead.
The tough taskmaster
After such a dominating performance from their team, it would seem the Mumbai Cricket Association would be pleased. However, they instead demanded an explanation from the team management as to why the follow-on was not enforced against Bengal after Mumbai took a 325-run first innings lead, according to a report in the Indian Express. "After the team's return, we will go through the manager's report and will take a call. We will also have a talk with the team management," Lalchand Rajput, the MCA joint-secretary, said.
Jaffer, the captain, defended his team's decision, finally revealing the truth about the Eden pitch. "The bowlers were very tired and there was nothing in the wicket. Victory with a bonus point would have given us six points, but there was no guarantee that it would happen. So we decided not to go for an outright win."
A hurricane hits Haryana
On a pitch where they had folded up for 127 in the first innings, Haryana would have hoped to restrict Baroda as well. However, they ran into Yusuf Pathan, and after an assault that lasted 138 deliveries, yielded 195 runs, and rained 19 fours and 10 sixes, the nine bowlers that Haryana used had nowhere to run for cover. Yusuf dominated a 279-run third-wicket partnership with veteran Connor Williams, who made 114 off 316 deliveries. It reminds one of two gentlemen who bat at No. 1 and No. 3 for India. For the record, a stunned Haryana were beaten by an innings, losing seven wickets to left-arm spinner Bhargav Bhatt, playing his third first-class game.
The last straw, and the retirement
The veteran Railways offspinner Kulamani Parida was cautioned for a suspect action last year, and didn't play a game after that until Assam came to the Karnail Singh Stadium last week. However, in what appeared to be the last straw, he was called again during his only over in the second innings, and promptly announced his retirement after the match ended. It was a sad end for a man who was once thought deserving of an India cap. "It was tough for me to change my action at this stage. I tried but failed. I will miss the Railways dressing room," an emotional Parida told the Hindu. The tributes flowed in, his captain Murali Kartik called him "internally flawless", his coach Abhay Sharma said the entire team was feeling sad, and Assam captain Amol Muzumdar told him to "look at the match-winning spells" he had bowled, and "go out on a high."
Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo