Ranji Trophy: Gaja provides timely reminder of batting potential in Gujarat's fightback

Known more for his pace bowling, Chintan Gaja reminded everyone of his potential with the bat with a stirring half-century to rescue Gujarat against Saurashtra.

Chintan Gaja

Gujarat's Chintan Gaja (left) exults after taking a Saurashtra wicket on the third afternoon.   -  VIJAY SONEJI

A pace spearhead, who can bat a bit -- that’s how Chintan Gaja is known in India’s domestic cricketing circuit. After all, this is what he has been doing for Gujarat over the last four years.

But did you know, Gaja has a triple century under his belt?

The 25-year-old still cherishes those moments when he slammed a triple century in an U-16 inter-school fixture. Featuring for Asian English School, Gaja struck 300 against Prakash School, in only half as many deliveries -- which made him ‘famous’ in Ahmedabad.

It was exactly a decade ago, and Gaja -- who has so far featured in 28 first-class games for Gujarat -- has fond memories of that innings. “I used to open the batting for my school, but in the age-group cricket. I always had the belief that I can bat,” Gaja said on Monday, after his all-round performance -- 61 with the bat and a five-for -- put Gujarat in the driver’s seat in the Ranji Trophy semifinal against Saurashtra.

“I scored a 300 as an opener, and crafted my innings with 45 boundaries and 10 sixes. It was a big deal to slam a triple ton at the U-16 stage,” he said, reminiscing those days.

Read: Late wickets kindle Bengal's hopes of entering final

Even though he opened the innings for his school side, Gaja would bat down the order for the state side. But then, every time he would partner with a senior batsman, Gaja made sure that he chips in with the willow as well. “Whenever I play with specialised batsmen, I try to build partnerships with them. When wickets tumble, I can score freely,” he said.

On Monday, he kept his cool and built his innings well, to ensure that his team inched closer to Saurashtra’s first innings total. It’s a different story that Gujarat fell 52 runs short, but Gaja's batting display became the talking point.

In the quarterfinals against Goa last week, Gaja contributed with a knock of 56 and he admits that innings gave him confidence. “I could not score runs in the couple of games that I played (before the quarterfinals). During the break, I worked on my batting because the team management shows confidence in my batting,” he said.

100

Chintan Gaja in his delivery stride.   -  VIJAY SONEJI

In the first innings, too, he maintained good line and length but failed to scalp a wicket. However, he made up for that with a fiery spell in the second innings. “We look positive and wanted to score runs. As close as possible to the target. Target ke nazdik jaana was the target. The plan was simple: to bowl around the fourth stump. We were getting help from that area, so we wanted to bowl around that area and get wickets…”

With two days remaining, Saurashtra has high chances of bouncing back. But Gaja believes that one good ball on Tuesday morning could turn things their way. “It’s a matter of one good ball and we can get them out. The ball is still hard, it’s moving, so we would try to utilise it,” the seasoned campaigner said.

A fixture against Saurashtra is always a big deal for Gujarat cricketers and every time they clash in the ‘Gujarat derby’, tempers fly. And this game is no exception. As wickets tumbled, Saurashtra players gave ‘special send-offs’ to Gujarat batsmen, who, too, gave it back.

And things heated up a bit when Sheldon Jackson walked back to the pavilion after being dismissed for a duck in the second innings. Some of the Gujarat players seemed to have a war of words with him, forcing captain Parthiv Patel to step in.

At the end of the day, some of the players from both the camps were summoned by match referee Sanjai Verma. “Our batsmen were given send-offs, that led to aggression. So, we got carried away. Such things should not have happened in cricket and Parthiv told us to focus on our game and go about our business…”

That’s what Gaja plans to do over the next couple of days -- focus on the job!

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