Parthiv, Axar guide Gujarat through in nervy chase
Gujarat 198 for 8 (Parthiv 57, Axar 36*; Wakhare 3-30, Thakur 3-46) beat Vidarbha 195 (Fazal 52, Jitesh 51, Bumrah 4-38) by two wickets
It was a thriller that didn't look possible at one stage, but Gujarat's batting meltdown in a modest chase meant their lower order had to squeeze out every ounce of temperament against a spirited attack. In the end, a composed unbeaten 36 from Axar Patel, who also had two scalps earlier in the day, proved to be the difference in a nail-biter as Gujarat won by two wickets in Alur to seal a semi-final berth at the Vijay Hazare Trophy.
Truth be told, the conditions weren't half as bad as the scorecard suggested. On the day, Vidarbha were guiltier of the two as they were shot out for 195 after bucking the trend and opting to bat on a surface where most teams have had no hesitation in fielding first. That they got there was courtesy Jitesh Sharma and Faiz Fazal, the openers, who made half-centuries, with Ganesh Satish conjuring a fighting 47 even as the lower order caved in without a fight.
Vidarbha fought valiantly to make a match of it courtesy Ravikumar Thakur, the left-arm seamer, and offspinner Akshay Wakhare who picked up three wickets apiece to deflate Gujarat, who were batting as if they were trying to beat the evening traffic. Amidst the ruins, Axar found an ally in Hardik Patel as the pair's unbroken 36-run stand for the ninth wicket helped them squeeze out the win that would also somewhat ease their disappointment of having failed to make it into the Ranji Trophy knockouts.
On a new surface with even bounce and decent carry, Jasprit Bumrah, the medium pacer, made the ball talk by subtle changes in length to finish with 4 for 38. Vidarbha's last eight wickets fell for 63 to hasten their collapse that undid all the good work done by the top three who contributed 150 to the total.
Gujarat were clinical with their execution on the field for most parts. There was a brief flutter at the start when Fazal (51) and Jitesh (52) were going strong, dispatching the loose deliveries while treating the good ones with respect, in a 96-run opening stand. But while the breakthrough remained elusive, Gujarat were unlucky despite creating a number of openings.
They broke through finally in the 21st over, when Fazal miscued a lofted hit to deep cover, and Parthiv Patel went back to his trump card Axar immediately. The left-arm spinner, unfazed by recent criticism over his bowling style, held his own and was complemented from the other end by offspinner Rujul Bhatt.
As well as they bowled, the moment that turned the tide in Gujarat's favour was Jitesh's run-out, a result of total breakdown in communication. Then came a double strike of S Badrinath and Ravi Jangid in the space of three deliveries that exposed a relatively inexperienced lower middle order with too much to do. Satish, who has played most of his cricket for Karnataka before moving to Vidarbha, held the innings together. But frequent wickets every time he tried to accelerate resulted in his dismissal that hastened the end with two overs left unconsumed.
Gujarat came out all guns blazing as Parthiv repeatedly pierced a packed off side field, hitting six boundaries in the first four overs alone and unleashed his trademark cut shots as his innings progressed. The effect of Parthiv's exuberance - the team total was 71 when he got to his fifty - meant Vidarha were simply going through the motion before an inspired team talk that followed Parthiv's stumping turned things around.
Chirag Gandhi kept milking the bowl to make 31 before an ugly hoick resulted in his downfall, sparking a lower-order implosion as Gujarat slipped from 139 for 4 to 162 for 8. All along, Axar kept picking singles, and as the target got within touching distance, Hardik Patel wasn't afraid to take a risk. After surviving a run-out call that left players from both sides on tenterhooks for nearly five minutes with Gujarat needing eight, he muscled a boundary over cover. The final nail in the coffin was hammered when Axar slapped one over the off side field to seal a heart-stopping thriller in the penultimate over.
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo