'Different kind of high, the guys went mad' - Chhattisgarh's Amandeep Khare on Mumbai conquest
With 20 needed off seven balls, Ajay Mandal and his senior partner Amandeep Khare pulled off a coup against the defending champions
Four runs needed, four balls left - Chhattisgarh are on the verge of a historic first win against Mumbai. Tushar Deshpande, Mumbai's fastest bowler, has been smacked inside-out over cover for a boundary off the first ball. Ajay Mandal then backs away for the second and lofts a full delivery over long-off for six. The equation has turned, from a seemingly tough 20 off seven balls. Mandal can see his team-mates jumping in excitement in the distance. Amandeep Khare, the senior partner, unbeaten on 117 at the other end, is quietly praying Mandal doesn't lose his cool.
"I was only thinking in my mind that he should take a single, but didn't want to tell him anything initially," Khare tells ESPNcricinfo. "Then Ajay came and told me 'dekh, chhakka maroonga' (See, I will hit a six). I knew I had to step in. I was reminded of that famous World T20 game in Bangalore. Aapko bhi yaad hoga (you will also remember) - Mushfiqur Rahim celebrated with Bangladesh still needing two. I told Ajay, 'please don't play a bad shot and get out now'. Even if you take a single, it's fine. We're making history here. Wait."
Mandal listened to his senior partner and they took two. Now, with two runs needed and the field in, he chipped the ball over the infield and they completed the double. The first-ever win for Chhattisgarh over Vijay Hazare Trophy defending champions Mumbai. A side they kept hearing stories about. A side that would often be discussed in meetings.
Khare was part of the first-ever meeting when Chhattisgarh's Ranji Trophy squad was assembled three years ago. The then coach Sulakshan Kulkarni had brought with him a replica of the Ranji Trophy and asked his players to touch it, take pictures and post them on social media. Now, he remembers that very moment as he plucks the stump out and runs towards the dressing room to celebrate. This isn't a title win, but the euphoria feels like one. "Alag wala high tha yeh, log pagal ho gaye (This was a different kind of high, the guys went mad)," Khare says.
"This means so much, because growing up, a lot of our players kept wondering when will we get to play big teams, let alone beat them. So now, when the moment has come, it's a little surreal. Bangalore's traffic didn't allow us to celebrate much at the ground, it takes us two hours to get to the hotel. We have a game in less than 12 hours, so a quick team meeting, dinner and sleep. In fact, even my parents don't know yet that I made a century and we won. I will call them now."
A simple news-trawl on Google about Khare gives you very little. He's 22 years old, plays for Chhattisgarh and isn't used to giving interviews. The fact is, he is the first player from Chhattisgarh proper to play for India at any level - he was part of the Under-19 World Cup team in 2016 - and has been part of the Duleep Trophy and the Deodhar Trophy since.
"The Under-19 World Cup gives you a platform, but I realised coming from Chhattisgarh, all that euphoria would quickly die down, and I have to score runs to be remembered," he says. "My last two seasons were a little average, I didn't think I stepped up and performed to my expectation. I worked on my fitness and also, talking a lot with senior players has been a massive help. Match awareness, match situations, how do you play in what situations - all these things I've learnt by making mistakes."
Khare and Mandal came together when Chhattisgarh needed 96 off 58 balls. Khare wasn't thinking about the win yet, but wanted to take the game into the last three overs. He had the belief that even 40 runs could be scored off them. It's this belief, he says, that wasn't there earlier, not until a couple of years ago.
"We were a right-left combination, so the plan was every over we have to somehow get two boundaries. I was targeting the short leg-side boundary from one end, and he'd target it from the other," he says. "In fact, when 20 runs were needed, I thought of taking a single so that I could be on strike and face the final over. I backed myself to hit three sixes, but then thought I would be getting ahead of the game thinking that way. Shivam Dube bowled a slower ball, I made room and lofted it for six. Even I was amazed how I easily managed to clear the ropes."
As the shot is hit, Khare hears Shashank Singh from the dressing room yelp at the fielders who had sledged him. There's a bit of background to it: Shashank played his early years in Mumbai, and had been team-mates with the very players he was pitted against here. When he was out in the middle, Shreyas Iyer, Sarfaraz Khan and Aditya Tare were in his ear constantly. Khare says he couldn't understand much of it because it was in Marathi, but says it was quite hilarious to see his team-mate under the pump. Shashank also played his part in the win by making 40 off 43 balls in a 97-run stand that brought the target down to double-digits.
"I told him, your turn will also come, keep waiting, we will win the game and you can say whatever you want," Khare recalls and laughs. "After the game, it was all good. Shreyas Iyer came and congratulated me, Sarfaraz Khan, who I played India Under-19 cricket with, came and shook hands. I guess even they knew we were destined to win this. Hopefully this is the start of something big for us."
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo