Irani Cup: Gurbani puts RoI on the mat

Rajneesh Gurbani scalps four wickets as Vidrabha inches closer to its first-ever Irani Cup title win.

Rajneesh Gurbani celebrates the dismissal of K. S. Bharat in Nagpur on Saturday.   -  Vivek Bendre

Thanks to his stupendous feats in the Ranji Trophy knock-outs — including the 12-wicket haul in a thrilling semifinal win and a hat-trick in the final to seal Vidarbha’s maiden title — Rajneesh Gurbani had made heads turn in the domestic cricket fraternity.

The Vidarbha pacer continued to impress with a four-wicket haul to virtually ensure the Irani Cup title for the home team.

As if Apoorv Wankhede’s onslaught in the morning and coach Chandrakant Pandit’s shrewd tactics had not put the Rest of India out of the game at the Vidarbha Cricket Association stadium — declaring its first innings at a monumental 800 for seven — Gurbani’s inspired spells early on took away any possibility of an RoI resistance.

QUOTE SHOOT

G. Hanuma Vihari: "Must be fatigue as well. Fielding for 200-plus overs is never easy. And to be honest, they bowled in good areas. They were swinging the ball and bowling in good areas. It was unfortunate that we didn't have the slice of luck with the top order. You tend to get away with some good balls but we snicked them off."

Rajneesh Gurbani: "It's never easy to bowl on flat pitches. Satisfied that it came off today but the job is still not done. We have to get them out tomorrow and win the prestigious Irani Cup."

Gurbani’s four-wicket haul left RoI tottering at 98 for six, before G. Hanuma Vihari and Jayant Yadav brought some solace to RoI’s innings. At stumps on the penultimate day, Vihari and Jayant’s unbroken 138-run partnership helped RoI reach 236-6.

However, the damage inflicted by Gurbani was too much to even help RoI stretch the game into the reserved sixth day, in case the first innings doesn't end in five. With a need for someone to lay an anchor, RoI preferred to open the innings with R. Samarth along with Prithvi Shaw.

But the ploy didn’t work as he ballooned an attempted flick off Gurbani to square-leg off the second ball he faced. In came Mayank Agarwal but the in-form opener nicked Umesh Yadav soon afterwards to R. Sanjay at first slip.

Shaw entertained a sparse crowd with his delightful strokeplay. While his twin flicks off Umesh in successive drew applause, his punches off the backfoot off Gurbani and Aditya Thakare left even the two national selectors watching the game spellbound.

Just before lunch, Aditya Sarwate’s left-arm spin was introduced and he welcomed him with consecutive square cuts for fours and a slog-sweep over mid-wicket fence. However, moments after completing his fifty after lunch, Shaw played a loose cut off Thakare and Wankhede pouched the catch off second attempt at backward point.

Gurbani then virtually sealed the deal for Vidarbha by striking thrice in 11 balls. He first got skipper Karun Nair to nick one to the keeper, then shaped a ball in to sound the timber once K.S. Bharat had shouldered it two balls later and in the next over, got R. Ashwin to ofer catching practice to Faiz Fazal in the cordon.

Had umpire Anil Chaudhary turned down a caught-behind appeal when Umesh's ball had kissed the gloves en route ‘keeper Wadkar down the leg, the fate of the match would have been almost sealed. Vihari made the most of a reprieve and Jayant put his head down to ensure the last day's play won't be an entirely meaningless exercise.