Ranji Trophy semifinal: Chintan Gaja's heroics put Gujarat in the driver's seat

Chintan Gaja helped Gujarat bounce back on the third day with a solid 61 and then picked up five wickets to tilt the game in his team’s favour against Saurashtra.

Chintan Gaja (centre) added another fifer in his kitty, on third day of the Ranji Trophy semifinal against Saurashtra.

Chintan Gaja (centre) added another fifer in his kitty, on third day of the Ranji Trophy semifinal against Saurashtra.   -  VIJAY SONEJI

A five-wicket haul doesn’t come too often in a bowler’s life. But for Chintan Gaja, it has become a regular affair.

A week ago, the 25-year-old fast bowler from Gujarat had claimed his first five-for of the season, in the Ranji Trophy quarterfinal against Goa.

And at the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium on Monday, he added another fifer in his kitty -- this time against Saurashtra -- to put Gujarat in the driver’s seat in the semifinal of the country’s premier domestic tournament.

Proving his mettle as an all-rounder, Gaja first helped Gujarat return to the game with a solid 61, batting lower down the order, and then bowled a sensational spell to tilt the game in his team’s favour.

Read | Ranji Trophy semifinal: Jackson, bowlers give Saurashtra control

Saurashtra ended the day at 66-5, with a lead of meagre 118 runs. Even as Arpit Vasavada (23) and Chetan Sakariya (32) -- who put together a 51-run stand -- are at the crease, the home side needs a really strong partnership on the fourth day to chase its dreams of reaching the final. But for that to happen, the batsmen first need to come up with a plan against Gujarat pace battery, which looks confident after Gaja’s heroics.

But then, things did not appear this gloomy for Saurashtra, even before the third session. After bundling out Gujarat for 252 and earning a lead of 52 runs in the first innings, the home team looked calm and confident.

However, things changed soon as it lost its first three wickets for just four runs. With Gaja breathing fire, hopes were pinned on Vishvarajsinh Jadeja and Sheldon Jackson, but their stay in the crease, too, was cut short. After rattling Jadeja’s stumps, Gaja removed Jackson -- who scored a classy ton in the first innings -- without allowing him to open his account.

With the team’s most reliable batsman back in the pavilion, there was pin drop silence at the stadium. However for Gujarat, there were enough reasons to celebrate.

Ever since it decided to win the toss and field, nothing seemed to have gone Gujarat’s way. But Parthiv Patel’s side turned the tide its way on the third day, courtesy Gaja’s feats.

Match highlights | Ranji Trophy semifinals, Day 3: Saurashtra in tatters after Chintan Gaja's fiery spell

Starting the day at 119-6, it was crucial for Gujarat to stitch long partnerships and Gaja was at it. After forging a 57-run stand with Axar Patel, he added 87 runs, pairing with Rujul Bhatt -- who played a gritty knock of 71. And those two partnerships, eventually helped Gujarat reduce the gap and end its innings at 252.

Having conceded a rather slender lead, Gujarat bounced back in the second innings and ensured that it put the home team under tremendous pressure.

Even though Rujul dropped a Sakariya sitter at the fag end of the day, Gujarat would get into business on the fourth day, oozing with confidence.

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