Gujarat fighting for survival
Gujarat 244 (Parthiv 101, Chavan 3-54) and 159 for 5 () trail Mumbai 447 (Jaffer 171, Shah 82) by 44 runs
During tea time on the third day of their last Group A game against Mumbai, a couple of the Gujarat support-staff members were keeping a close watch on the proceedings in Rajkot. And it was quite understandable. With an outright loss hovering over their heads at the Dr DY Patil Sports Stadium, Gujarat will be keeping their fingers crossed for Madhya Pradesh to draw the game against Saurashtra in Rajkot.
But by stumps, the situation had gone from bad to worse for the visitors. Not only did they lose two more wickets in the last 40 minutes but they were also in danger of conceding an innings defeat. With five wickets down, including that of their mainstay Parthiv Patel, Gujarat still need another 44 runs to avoid an innings defeat. Add to it the fact that Gujarat have the worst quotient among the four teams that are competing for two slots in the quarter-finals from the group, and it means Gujarat's season would be all but over on the New Year's Day despite starting the last round in second place.
The Gujarat batsmen will have only themselves to blame. Had they applied themselves better in the second essay, they could have been in a much better position going into the last day's play. They would have at least been hoping to earn one point for avoiding a defeat that could have placed them better.
And they had everything going their way at the start of the innings. First of all, Mumbai's stand-in captain and pace spearhead Zaheer Khan didn't take the field. With Mumbai having ensured a place in the quarters, Zaheer had no reason to stretch his right calf muscle, which he had strained during the last day's play in Indore last week. And then, allrounder Abhishek Nayar, who was down with a throat and chest infection, returned to the dressing room after bowling just four overs.
Still, the Gujarat batting line-up faltered consistently. Except for Parthiv Patel and Manpreet Juneja, all the other batsmen appeared to be far from comfortable at the crease. While opener Smit Patel started on a positive note, he holed out to square-leg off Javed Khan - easily the pick of the Mumbai bowlers at the start of day's play - early on in the second session.
From then on, Samit Gohel and Bhargav Merai managed to hold the innings together for well over an hour. However, in the penultimate over before tea, Merai had a lapse in concentration off part-time off-spinner Suryakumar Yadav. Merai's flick landed in the hands of substitute Vishal Dabholkar at short midwicket. Two balls later, left-arm spinner Ankeet Chavan zipped one through Gohel's defence to disturb the woodwork. At 63 for 3, Gujarat were in danger of folding quickly.
However, Parthiv seemed to be carrying on from his century in the first innings. The Gujarat captain, with the aid of Juneja who was the most compact player on the day, scored freely, nudging the ball at will. His run-a-ball 47 included a lofted shot off Chavan that sailed over the bowler's head for a six. But in the very next over, Javed produced a peach of a delivery to send Parthiv back. The medium-pacer generated extra bounce off a fuller length to force a nick off Parthiv's bat and Wasim Jaffer took a sharp catch at first slip.
Perhaps to protect specialist batsman Chirag Gandhi, the Gujarat team management promoted Rujul Bhatt to see off the evening. And he did apply himself till he fell into a trap on the penultimate ball of the day: with two balls remaining in the day, Chavan, in consultation with Jaffer, who was in charge of the team, brought substitute Shoaib Shaikh in at short midwicket. The next ball was obviously pitched on Bhatt's pads and Shaikh latched on to Bhatt's uppish drive to end the day on a high for Mumbai.
While the Gujarat camp was shattered, their opposition was smiling and relieved, perhaps for the first time this season. "We hope to seal our second consecutive outright victory," coach Sulakshan Kulkarni said. "It's a massive boost for us to be able to win two in two, especially after failing to produce an outright win in the first six games of the season. It augurs well for us going into the knockouts."
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo