Vijay Hazare Trophy: Sijomon proves his worth in white-ball cricket

From 120 for six, his unbroken seventh-wicket of 174 stand with Vishnu Vinod gave Kerala a most unlikely win, which was a new record.

An aggressive Sijomon helped Kerala pull off a stunning victory against Maharashtra and another against Chhattisgarh the following day.   -  RANJITH PERALAM

The lockdown gave Sijomon Joseph plenty of time to work on his cricket. There was one area, he felt, he could focus particularly on - hitting sixes.

The work he did on that aspect of his batting is coming in handy for Kerala at the on-going Vijay Hazare Trophy one-day tournament in Rajkot. A more aggressive Sijomon helped Kerala pull off a stunning victory against Maharashtra.

From 120 for six, his unbroken seventh-wicket of 174 stand with Vishnu Vinod gave Kerala a most unlikely win. It was a new record, too.

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“I was delighted to learn that we had broken the record set by M.S. Dhoni and Shahbaz Nadeem (four years ago),” Sijomon told Sportstar over phone from Rajkot on Monday. “It felt great to pull off that chase along with Vishnu.”

He said the innings gave him a lot of confidence in his batting. “These days you need to have multiple skills as a cricketer,” he said. “So I have been focussing hard on my batting. I have been working with former Kerala captain Sreekumar Nair. Like me, he is a left-handed batter and left-arm spinner, and that matters.”

Looking back at his best innings -- 71 not out off 70 balls -- yet in white-ball cricket, he said he had little hope of a Kerala win when he walked out to bat. Something he shared with the Maharashtra team, he found out when he reached the middle.

“I could hear Ruturaj Gaikwad (Maharashtra’s captain) telling his teammates that it was the last Kerala wicket that they needed for winning the match,” said Sijomon.

“But once I started hitting a couple of sixes and saw that I was connecting the ball well, I felt we could do it. And of course, Vishnu was batting brilliantly at the other end.”

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The following day, Sijomon took five wickets against Chhattisgarh to star in another win for Kerala. “It felt nice to be amongst the wickets on a track that gave little assistance to the bowlers,” he said. “I am happy that I am doing well both with bat and ball in white-ball cricket; I hadn’t got this many opportunities before.”

Looking ahead to Kerala’s last match on Tuesday, against Uttarakhand, he said the team was confident of winning. “We want to top the group and qualify for the knock-out stage,” he said.

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