Ranji Trophy: Gandhi, Bhatt give Gujarat first innings lead

Jalaj Saxena's strikes before lunch on day two must have been a setback for Gujarat but Chirag Gandhi and Rujul Bhatt revived the team with a 90-run stand.

Chirag Gandhi's gritty 91 helped Gujarat get a crucial lead against Kerala.   -  P. K. AJITH KUMAR

Shortly after stumps on a humid Sunday, Chirag Gandhi was speaking about the splendid innings he played that helped Gujarat move considerably ahead of Kerala in the Group B Ranji Trophy match. But he emphasised more on his seventh-wicket stand with Rujul Bhatt. The duo had come together at 164 for six, when the match was very much in the balance at the G.S. Patel Stadium. Gujarat was still 42 behind the visiting side’s first innings total of 208; on a track that has already begun to turn, batting on the final day isn’t exactly an exciting prospect. So the 90 runs they put together could have a significant impact on this game.

Gandhi will return to the crease on Monday with hopes of getting what could be his second first class hundred. He is on 91 (142b, 199min, 12x4, 1x6), but has only the last man, debutant Sidharth Desai, for company.

Gujarat, which had resumed at the overnight 60 for two, now leads by 99, and is at 307 for nine. That hardly seemed possible when Kerala came strongly into the match with a spirited bowling performance. Though opener Samit Gohel and nightwatchman Chintan Gaja added 69 before they were separated, the defending champion lost a few quick wickets in succession. Off-spinner Jalaj Saxena, who had bowled Kerala to victory in the last match against Jharkhand with 11 wickets, once again led the fightback. He had both Gaja and Parthiv Patel lbw to ensure that Gujarat would go to lunch with butterflies in the stomach.

When debutant left-arm spinner Sijomon Joseph had the dangerous Manprit Juneja caught in the covers by captain Sachin Baby, the host had lost four wickets for an addition of 31 runs. Then, Bhatt was joined by Gandhi and they took their team well past the rival’s first innings. But seamer M. D. Nidheesh, who bowled with good pace and a lot of enthusiasm on a wicket that didn’t offer him much help, with a couple of quick wickets towards the close, gave Kerala something to hope for.

“It was a tough day, but the boys put in a good effort,” said Kerala’s coach Dav Whatmore. “The lead shouldn’t have been this big, though.”

His counterpart Vijay Patel said he had faith in Gandhi and Bhatt. “They have done this before and I was banking on them to bail us out,” he said.

SCORECARD

Kerala 208 in 66.5 overs (Sanju Samson 51, Sachin Baby 49; Piyush Chawla five for 69) vs Gujarat 307 for nine in 106 overs (Chirag Gandhi 91, S. B. Gohil 69; M. D. Nidheesh three for 58)

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