'A big, big thing for J&K cricket' - Rasool
Before the historic achievement of progressing to the Ranji knockouts on Thursday, Jammu & Kashmir players spent a few nervous moments on the field, brushing up their maths skills to check their chances of qualifying.
J&K were placed third, behind Maharashtra and Goa, and the pressure was on after Goa won on New Year's Day against Andhra. That left J&K and Goa on an equal numbers of victories, which meant J&K either had to win, or take the first-innings points and ensure they have a higher quotient. They took first-innings points and ensured they had a higher quotient. Just higher; Goa's was 1.005, J&K ended on 1.006.
"This is a big, big thing for Jammu & Kashmir cricket," captain Parvez Rasool told ESPNcricinfo."The whole region, I think, must be very happy that the team has qualified for the knockouts.
"Honestly, I didn't sleep very well last night. Even today, I was worried about what exactly was needed. We had to work out the calculations because of Goa winning outright. We bowled very well in the match, because we had to make sure that we got Tripura out to get some points from the game. Without the bowling, it would have been hard."
After taking a first-innings lead of 45, J&K had to restrict Tripura again in order to score quickly to increase their quotient. Tripura, 103 for 2 overnight, were dismissed for 272 as Rasool bagged 7 for 87, his first five-for this season in the Ranji Trophy.
"This was the first time I got some turn from the pitch," Rasool said. "In all the matches that we have played till now, I didn't get much help. The fast bowlers, however, were bowling well throughout the season. Till last year, there were only one or two boys who used to perform, but this year, everyone is chipping in. There is unity in this team.
"It was good to be back in form as this was a crunch situation for us and the weather wasn't looking great either. For me, this was the right time to deliver. It was important today that I was there in the middle because a captain should lead from the front and it worked out well."
Samiullah Beigh, J&K's highest wicket-taker of the season and among the top ten with 33 wickets at an average of 27.54, said the team was nervous because they were not getting much help from the pitch and taking the remaining eight wickets was not easy.
"It was a flat and non-responsive wicket, so we had to put extra effort to get the wickets," Beigh said. "On top of that, we had to stay in touch with the calculations. There are only one or two boys who could work it out, so we were up till late in the night.
"Parvez is one of our most important players, but it has been a tough season for him. Finally, he clicked in the most important match for us."
Opener Adil Rishi, their highest run-scorer of the season, made 78 in the first innings but survived only four balls in the second. He said the track was doing enough to keep them anxious throughout.
"While batting we didn't want to lose wickets but we lost two and the ball was gripping and bouncing a bit," Rishi said. "Our batsmen scored some runs and even luck favoured us. At drinks we calculated again and thought of pushing the score towards 100 but it was risky and the match referee said we had scored enough to qualify.
"I'm happy with my performances, but I should have had more runs because about three dismissals went against me so I wanted to score more. By the grace of God, I scored well and I would want to end the season with 700-750 runs."
J&K won four out of eight matches this season as opposed to only two last time when they finished seventh in Group C. Rishi attributed the success to the long-term planning the team had put in, along with the guidance of former coach Bishan Bedi last season.
"Last year also we got some outright wins and Bedi Sir had motivated us by saying that we can qualify and we played with the same optimism this season," Rishi said.
J&K now face Punjab in Baroda for the quarter-finals from January 8, but the team needs to work on its fielding and bowling before the big match.
"Our bowling unit has to work extra hard because our fielding is not good," Beigh said. "We dropped a few catches, the day before we dropped four or five. Ek-ek player ko do-do baar out karna padta hai (We have to dismiss each player twice)."
"We have to work on our fielding," Rishi concurred. "We have hardly changed our playing XI this season and that has helped our performances. Our morale is high and inshallah we'll win the next match."
Vishal Dikshit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo; Devashish Fuloria is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo