<
>

Jaggi and Nadeem establish Jharkhand advantage

Gujarat 390 and 100 for 4 (Juneja 2*, Patel 0*, Nadeem 3-36) lead Jharkhand 408 (Jaggi 129, Kishan 61, Kaushal 53, RP Singh 6-90) by 82 runs
Scorecard

Ishank Jaggi has been the face of Jharkhand's batting for the last five seasons. He has rarely failed in a crisis, and his side was certainly in one in their Ranji Trophy semi-final against Gujarat: 176 behind and only five wickets in hand. But Jaggi met the challenge of batting with the lower order and played with such assurance that he not only made his fourth century of 2016-17 but also helped Jharkhand pocket the first-innings lead an hour into the second session.

By limiting the lead to just 18, largely due to the efforts of RP Singh, who finished with 6 for 90 with some fine swing bowling, Gujarat were still alive. But a second-innings meltdown against spin, brought about by indecision in stroke play and not because of demons in the surface, meant Gujarat had slipped to 100 for 4, leading by just 82 at stumps.

Shahbaz Nadeem, the most successful bowler of the season, took three wickets in four overs in the last half hour before stumps to take his tally to 54 and Jharkhand, who were fighting for survival on Monday, raced ahead 24 hours later.

Gujarat have largely relied on first-innings leads this season - they have just two outright wins - and have rarely been put under pressure. Here, there was real challenge. They had to both force the pace and also bat tactfully enough that their bowlers had enough runs to defend on what could be a tough fourth-innings chase. This seemed to play on their minds. After a second-wicket stand of 69, the batsmen began playing for stumps and it backfired.

Gujarat's bowlers committed similar mistakes at the start of the day. There was considerable moisture on a chilly morning, but Rush Kalaria and Jasprit Bumrah were erratic; 40 runs, including seven boundaries, came in the first seven overs, five of those were hit by Jaggi.

Realising the need to stem the runs, the bowlers tried to bounce the batsmen out. But by overdoing that tactic, Gujarat wasted opportunities to dig into the lower order in the first session, when there was still help off the pitch. Once the short-ball ploy didn't work, the frustration of being unable to strike early became evident.

Parthiv Patel, the captain, was unsure of whether to contain the lead or continue taking risks in search of a wicket. This played into Jaggi's hands as he raced into the 80s. Out came the pulls and the cuts, but it was his wrist work that was most impressive. Whips fetching the ball from the fifth stump to bisect midwicket and mid-on thrice off Jasprit Bumrah underlined his confidence. Rahul Shukla, promoted as nightwatchman late on Monday, held his own during a 69-run stand with Jaggi before being adjudged lbw off Hardik Patel.

Jharkhand's intent to continue attacking after lunch fetched quick runs. They blasted four fours and a six in the first two overs after the interval to inch closer to Gujarat's 390. Kaushal Singh's swift feet and solid timing helped him secure a half-century, but his technique against pace wasn't entirely convincing. This loophole was exposed when Bumrah got one to straighten and square the batsman up to beat the outside edge and hit the top of off stump.

At that stage, Jharkhand were 10 runs shy of the lead. RP Singh, unsuccessful in three disciplined spells before lunch, returned to pick up the last three wickets: Jaggi was out to an outswinger, Nadeem was caught off a bouncer out and Ajay Yadav was cleaned up by a fuller delivery.

Gujarat began cautiously, Priyank Panchal, the season's highest run-getter and just 145 runs short of VVS Laxman's all-time record for most runs in a season, weathered 18 balls and was run-out for 1 off his 19th after a mix-up with Samit Gohel. Both batsmen stuttered midway through a second run which gave enough time for wicketkeeper Kishan to collect a rocket throw from Vikash at deep point and whip the bails off.

An enterprising 44 from Bhargav Merai, which included eight fours, seemed like it Gujarat would finish confidently. But the first sign of indecision resulted in his - and later his team's - downfall. Unsure of whether to go forward or back, he got into a tangle off a Nadeem delivery that drifted in, cramped him up and crashed into the stumps. Parthiv fell soon after when he was deceived in flight by the left-arm spinner and chipped a catch to short midwicket. When Gohel was trapped by an arm-ball, the game had completely changed.