Valsad: Mumbai’s spinners, led by Iqbal Abdulla, triggered a dramatic collapse on the final day in Valsad as Gujarat lost their last six wickets for only 12 runs. A place in the quarter-finals was at stake, but it was the defending champions Mumbai who escaped elimination in the group stage by defending a modest 175, winning a pulsating contest by 27 runs.
Resuming on 67 for 3, Gujarat were still comfortably placed after the first drinks break of the morning, following a streak of boundaries in the first half an hour, despite losing the overnight batsman Bhargav Merai. The excitement was evident as the Gujarat camp vociferously cheered every single by Akshar Patel and Y Venugopal Rao.
It was perfectly understandable as Gujarat were on their way towards only their third victory against domestic giants Mumbai, in the 59th match between the zonal rivals. Incidentally, the last time Gujarat had defeated Mumbai – then Bombay – it was at another ground in the same town, back in 1977. Gujarat had upset Mumbai by 225 runs and had advanced to the knockouts while Mumbai had been eliminated in the group stage itself.
Thirty-six years later, Akshar and Rao gave Gujarat a shot at repeating history and securing a place in the quarter-finals. At 135 for 4, a false stroke by Akshar changed everything. The left-hander, who had given Gujarat the upper hand with a fluent fifty, failed to connect a sweep shot off the part-time offspinner Suryakumar Yadav and was bowled. With Gujarat still needing 40 runs to win, Mumbai, for the first time, sensed they could pocket the match at the Sardar Patel Stadium.
Half an hour later, Manpreet Juneja, who had been battling rough form all season, offered a dolly to Hiken Shah off Abdulla for a duck. In Abdulla’s next over, Rao was struck on the pads with a giant stride forward and was aghast to see the umpire upholding the appeal. Rao stood his ground in disbelief before trudging off.
Two balls later, Rakesh Dhurv tried to be too aggressive and ended up holing out to Shah at long-on off the left-arm spinner Vishal Dabholkar. Having lost two wickets for no runs, Gujarat had been reduced to 144 for 8. All their hopes rested on Chirag Gandhi, who was the last recognised batsman. However, Gandhi was soon undone by a quicker delivery from Abdulla that was full and trapped Gandhi plumb in front. The wicket give Abdulla his first ten-for in first-class cricket as Mumbai were just one wicket away from a memorable victory.
Six balls later, Dabholkar drew Jasprit Bumrah forward for Aditya Tare to complete an easy stumping. While the Gujarat dressing room was numb, the Mumbai camp rushed on to the field as if they had won the championship. However, having won a match in which they were down and out for most of the game and qualified for the quarters, they would now hope to convert their “lucky escape” and defend the title.
Gujarat captain Parthiv Patel conceded that his team threw away the match in the second innings. “We were placed in an excellent position midway through the match. However, first we conceded 40 to 50 runs extra to their lower order and then even after having eight specialist batsmen, we couldn’t chase the target down,” Parthiv said. “We cannot blame anyone but ourselves for the loss.”
Mumbai 154 (Pawar 37, Akshar 3-32) and 273 (H Shah 48, Bumrah 4-68) beat Gujarat 253 (Gohel 58, Abdulla 6-42) and 147 (Akshar 65, Abdulla 5-44, Dabholkar 4-33) by 27 runs