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Playing it safe or just plain poor? Jharkhand's decision to bat on leaves bad taste in the mouth

Jharkhand captain Sauabh Tiwary says aim was to give batters time in the middle, but Nagaland coach Kanwaljit Singh isn't impressed

Himanshu Agrawal
Saurabh Tiwary and Kumar Kushagra get together, Jharkhand vs Tamil Nadu, Ranji Trophy 2021-22, 4th day, Guwahati, March 6, 2022

Jharkhand batted for more than 200 overs in the first innings, amassing 880  •  PTI

"Were they scared of us?" Kanwaljit Singh, the Nagaland coach, minced no words while expressing his dismay at Jharkhand batting on on the final day of their Ranji Trophy pre-quarter-final match at Eden Gardens, despite heading into the day 723 runs ahead.
In the absence of an outright result, which Nagaland were unlikely to pull off, Jharkhand would have made the quarter-finals anyway, having claimed a first-innings lead, of a massive 591 runs. And when the fifth day began, they had to choose from either of the two: bowling for three sessions to try and take ten Nagaland wickets, or batting on and further grinding the opposition bowlers in the Kolkata heat and humidity.
They opted for the latter.
"If we had bowled them out, what would we have achieved? Would we have achieved anything extra?"
Saurabh Tiwary defends Jharkhand's decision to bat on
Jharkhand had relatively tough pitches to bat on in all three of their league matches in Guwahati, particularly at the Nehru Stadium, where they played their first and third games. Against Chhattisgarh, the highest total across the first three innings was 174, with Chhattisgarh's Shashank Singh's 43 the most by a batter. Even the match against Tamil Nadu had team totals declining until the third innings, before Jharkhand chased down 215.
In between, the game against Delhi at the Barsapara Stadium offered more: at least one Jharkhand batter got a century both times they batted, with Delhi too nearly chasing down 335 on the final day.
And so Saurabh Tiwary, Jharkhand's captain, said he preferred giving his batters time in the middle. "If we had bowled them out, what would we have achieved? Would we have achieved anything extra," he told ESPNcricinfo.
So what they did was first score 880, then bowl out Nagaland for 289, and then bat again and put up a further 417 for 6. Their eventual lead of 1008 was the biggest in the history of first-class cricket.
The quarter-finals are more than two months away - with the Ranji Trophy split by the IPL this season - but Tiwary pointed out that folding for unconvincing totals meant a flat Eden pitch was their best opportunity to firm up their batting.
"Our batsmen had been struggling to even score around 170-180. They weren't in great touch, so I personally set a target of us getting the runs," he said. "Whatever players we have are all young; I am the only one who has played 80 or 90 matches in first-class. Others have all played around 20 or even just ten games. So the more runs we score, the more confidence our batsmen get so that they can perform better in the times to come."
Kanwaljit, however, wasn't on the same page. Calling Jharkhand's strategy "uncalled for", he said, "I don't know what they wanted to do. They should have tried going for an outright victory. If they were actually scared that we would get those runs, then I am really proud of my team."
Part of the problem, of course, is the tournament rule, of teams with the first-innings lead either earning more points than the opponents (in the group phase) or moving to the next stage (in the knockouts).
"We were ready to enforce the follow-on, but some of our bowlers had an issue with their fingers which impacted their bowling," Tiwary said. "I had to protect my players. Secondly, in knockouts, you qualify the moment you take the lead. So there was no need to bowl in the second innings.
"When we will play other teams in the times to come, there is a possibility that our Nos. 8-11 will have to score runs. It is possible that we collapse. And they can do that only if they are habituated to perform.
"If we play the quarter-final on a similar pitch, who will rescue us? It is possible that we are five or six down early. That is when we can expect [something] from the tailenders [Shahbaz] Nadeem, Rahul [Shukla] or Ashish [Kumar] after we have [previously] given them that platform to score runs."
Again, Kanwaljit wasn't convinced, arguing that it was possible that Jharkhand were "not too sure about their score", with Nagaland having entered the pre-quarter-final on the back of two scores of over 500 out of the five times they had batted, their lowest total batting first being 295, after which they declared their second innings against Mizoram.
For Jharkhand, in the pre-quarter-final, the top run-getters were Kumar Kushagra (266 and 89), Virat Singh (107), Nadeem (177), and Anukul Roy (153).
"What batting practice? But then, it was their decision, so what can I say? They are to play only after IPL, and that's going to be after two months," Kanwaljit said. "So how does it make sense? As per cricketing strategies, I would have gone for an outright win for sure. And that would have been fair. But if they feel it was about batting practice, it was their choice."

Himanshu Agrawal is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo