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Chintan Gaja, swinging it with both bat and ball

The fast bowler put in a splendid display to bring Gujarat back into the semi-final against Saurashtra

Chintan Gaja is very good at moving the new ball, especially away from the right-hander  •  Chintan Gaja

Chintan Gaja is very good at moving the new ball, especially away from the right-hander  •  Chintan Gaja

Chintan Gaja was once an opening batsman. During his under-16 days, he hit a triple-hundred in single day of school cricket. He has even opened for Gujarat in Ranji Trophy once, against Maharashtra in 2018-19, when he came out as a nightwatchman and scored a boundary-laden 53 off 80 balls.
That was the second first-class fifty for Gaja, and he has scored two more since then, including the one against Goa in the quarter-final of the ongoing Ranji season. So when he came out as a No. 10 during the semi-final against Saurashtra, Gujarat still had some hope left despite Chirag Jani taking two quick wickets to reduce them to 155 for 8.
With his side 149 behind and facing only his third ball, Gaja charged down to Jani but managed only an inside edge. Three overs later he tried to do the same to Prerak Mankad and was beaten on the outside edge.
That, though, didn't seem to deter Gaja. He skipped down on the next delivery and deposited it over deep square leg. In the next over, he smashed Jani into the stands twice to move to 21 off 15.
Both Jani and Mankad had already bowled a long spell each by then. So Jaydev Unadkat brought himself on but he too wasn't spared. Coming down the track to the best bowler of the season, Gaja flat-batted him past mid-on first before launching him over his head for the biggest hit of the day.
By the time Saurashtra could think of another plan, Gaja had moved to 49 off 68. While he took another 17 balls to bring up his fifty and was eventually dismissed for 61 as the final wicket, his whirlwind knock, studded with six fours and four sixes, had reduced the deficit to 52.
Chintan Gaja has always been an opening bowler. That will probably never change given his strength is to move the new ball, and on Monday, he moved it as he pleased.
Bowling in the channel, he moved it one away from Kishan Parmar. An outside edge, pouched by wicketkeeper Dhruv Raval. Harvik Desai looked to work one on the leg side but the ball held its line. Caught at second slip. Avi Barot came forward to defend but this time the ball moved in off the seam. An inside edge on to the pads. Short leg accepted the dolly.
With Saurashtra reduced to 4 for 3 in six overs, in walked Chetan Sakariya, instead of their regular No. 5 and centurion of the first innings Sheldon Jackson.
In this line-up Sakariya bats at No. 11 but he is not a typical tailender. The reasoning behind such a big promotion, as Saurashtra coach Niraj Odedra later explained, was to send in a left-hander as Gaja was predominantly taking the ball away from the right-handers. They held back Dharmendrasinh Jadeja, another left-hander and with better batting credentials, thinking they might need him tomorrow.
But there was still a right-hander at the other end: Vishvaraj Jadeja. The ball moved in this time, and went through the gap between bat and pad to hit top of off. That forced Saurashtra to finally send Jackson in, but he lasted just one ball and was caught at first slip off the outside edge.
Arpit Vasavada, another left-hander, survived the hat-trick ball but by then Saurashtra were reeling at 15 for 5, Gaja's figures reading 5-3-9-5. From there, Vasavada and Sakariya took the hosts to 66 for 5 at stumps.
Gaja comes from a middle-class family. His father works for an insurance company, and having played some local cricket himself, had always encouraged his son to take up the sport. Gaja went to Asia English School in Ahmedabad and used to open both batting and bowling for his them. That triple-hundred he hit was while wearing their colours.
But as he came up to the higher levels, the batting took a bit of a backseat and he found himself in the lower-middle order while playing state tournaments. However, it hasn't stopped him from giving it his all.
"I could not score runs in the couple of games [before the quarter-finals]," Gaja said at the end of the day's play. "During the break before the knockout round, I worked on my batting. Also, the team management shows confidence in my batting.
"The idea today was to put them under pressure. Runs had dried up for some time, so I wanted to take some chances. Initially, I could not connect well, but gradually things eased out and the runs started flowing."
When it comes to the bowling, he has always worked hard in the nets to land it on a good length just outside off. Today, he bowled as if it was just another net session. Only the batsmen facing him had just one life.

Hemant Brar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo