Ishank Jaggi, the Jharkhand batsman, was resting his sore back in the dressing room when PN Singh, the team manager, sat beside him and quipped, "Eden Gardens ka repeat ho jaaye (Should we have a repeat of Eden Gardens)?" Jaggi, as he later told ESPNcricinfo, replied: "Kabhi Kabhi ho sakta hai, baar baar nahi (It might happen once in a way, not always)."
The comparison was apt. Tripura had scored 289 at home in Agartala and then bowled Jharkhand out for 136, enforcing the follow on with more than two days left to play in Agartala. Singh's reference was obviously to thatKolkata Test of 2001. It seemed hopeless then, and it did now, and little did Jaggi know that he would be at the centre of this "kabhi kabhi ho sakta hai" turnaround.
Jharkhand went on to win in dramatic circumstances, with the final wicket claimed in possibly the last over of the contest, Tripura bowled out for 211 after Jharkhand had declared on 418 for 8.
We were just beginning to get a little nervy, but eventually managed to hold on because we were determined to not be denied after having come that close. It would've been cruel to not win after that kind of a comeback
"It was around 4pm, and just an over earlier the umpires got together to take a light reading," Jaggi, who had hit 107 (retired) - with Saurabh Tiwary scoring 122 not out - in the second innings, said. "We knew it was a race against time. We possibly had six balls to take the last wicket, or else it would have most likely been a draw, because once we went out, there was no way we were coming back on."
When Ashish Kumar, the senior-most bowler in the Jharkhand XI, trapped Rana Dutta lbw, the camp went crazy. They had become the first team since Sourav Ganguly's Indians to win a first-class game in India after following on. Astonishingly, Jharkhand also became the first side in Ranji Trophy history to come back from a follow-on and win. "It's unbelievable," Jaggi added.
Victory was even more special as it had come without a number of their first-XI players. Ishan Kishan, Varun Aaron, Shahbaz Nadeem and Rahul Shukla were all out due to niggles. Ashish, with 30 first-class games under his belt, and Ajay Yadav, slightly less experienced, had 19-year-old debutant Vivekanand Tiwari as the third fast bowler. The trio picked up all ten second-innings wickets between them.
Before that, Jaggi and Tiwary got together in the first session on day three, with Tripura having reduced Jharkhand to 138 for 5 in the second innings, still 15 runs behind. Jaggi, a veteran of 84 first-class games, hit his 19th first-class century, before retiring because of that flared back. Tiwary was still there when Jharkhand declared.
"We batted for a bit on the final day, just to tire them out even more," Jaggi said of the plan. "I don't think anyone in Tripura's position would have expected the turnaround after picking up five wickets in the second innings. In going all out for a win, they kept attacking with their main bowlers, we kept playing them out and eventually they were tired.
"Later when their second set of bowlers came on, we started picking the runs. Once the partnership between Saurabh and me crossed 100, we decided to slowly try and push the runs, so that even if we get bowled out, there is some sort of a total to defend."
There was a small issue, though. Jaggi's back was beginning to hurt. He has a left-side disk compression in his spine, a problem he has had to manage for seven years now. His left leg is also a tad longer than his right, leading to issues. This even forced him to pull out midway through the white-ball season.
"As I got tired, I decided to attack the new ball in search of quick runs," Jaggi said. "But once it got to a stage where I had to go off, we decided having a new batsman with fresh legs in Anukul Roy was the best way forward, since they at one stage had nine fielders at the rope, and I wasn't able to run."
Roy contributed a quickfire 25 to set up the declaration.
This gave their bowlers a little over two-and-half sessions to defend 265, and victory was very much in sight when Jharkhand reduced Tripura to 41 for 5 at lunch.
"We briefly switched off after picking five wickets, but Manisankar Murasingh played a fabulous knock to make a century. We were just beginning to get a little nervy, but eventually managed to hold on because we were determined to not be denied after having come that close. It would've been cruel to not win after that kind of a comeback," Jaggi said.
Were there any celebrations afterwards? "No restaurants, no entertainment, no food outside," Jaggi laughed. "We stayed put at the hotel, enjoyed a quiet dinner, and all of us went to bed early."
Now, they have to wait. The Assam v Services game in Guwahati had to be abandoned because of political turmoil in Assam, and that's where Jharkhand are scheduled to travel next. The situation hasn't improved, and the match might well be rescheduled.