IT could be a pop-up quiz question some day. Who was the man of the final when Virat Kohli led India to U-19 glory in 2008? Yes, that title win that pretty much laid the foundation for what has turned into a record-breaking ODI career for the man who led his country that day. But if it was Kohli who lifted the trophy, the man who shouldered the Indian colts’ bowling that famous day in Kuala Lumpur was a lanky kid called Ajitesh Argal, who had figures of 2/7 in 5 overs in a low-scoring thriller.
Fast forward eight years, Kohli is Test captain while Argal has more or less faded into obscurity, like many others who star at U-19 level and then never replicate those early highs. There are many theories about why Argal lost his way. Some say he couldn’t handle the instant fame, others feel the money changed his lifestyle. Whatever the reason, the statistics are a fair reflection of where Argal’s career stands now. He has 19 wickets in eight first-class games since making his debut in 2007. And prior to facing Mumbai at the Reliance Stadium, he had played his last first-class game in January 2011.
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On Friday, though, Argal, now 27, showed why many in the Indian cricket circuit had raved about his exploits all those years back, as he dented the Mumbai middle-order with a four-wicket burst.
Though Mumbai did still finish Day Two in front, Argal’s 4/67 at least ensured that the visitors didn’t run away with the match after having started proceedings on 317/3 with overnight batsmen Shreyas Iyer on 167, and hungry for more.
Thanks to Argal, Mumbai were bowled out for 447 — with veteran Abhishek Nayar propping up the lower-order with a defiant 89 — before Baroda opener Kedar Devdhar scored a sparkling unbeaten 84 to take the home team to 133/1 at stumps.
The day had started well for Baroda as they got rid of Iyer with a run-out, courtesy Yusuf Pathan, after the right-hander had added just six runs to his overnight score. This was the opening Argal & Co were looking for.
Argal struck straightaway removing Suryakumar Yadav, caught-behind for 68, before getting rid of Mumbai’s centurion from the previous match, Siddhesh Lad, caught by the wicket-keeper with a lovely out-swinger. He then dismissed Abhishek Raut with a short delivery that the No.8 pulled straight to Sagar Mangalorkar at square-leg. All of a sudden, Argal had four victims in his kitty, and Mumbai had collapsed from 323/3 to 327/8, losing five wickets for three runs.
However, it was to be a day for fading stars to light up the cricket field again as Nayar put his hand up to resurrect a staggering Mumbai innings. He got decent support from Shardul Thakur, who contributed 24 crucial runs. And Nayar, who was renowned for being the saviour for Mumbai before losing form in the last few seasons, produced a kind of counter-attack which was his trademark.
There were many going into the match who had questioned his inclusion. But as he began launching into the Baroda bowlers, it began to dawn why he’s such a crucial element to this outfit, even if he’s now in the latter half of his career.
Nayar didn’t take too many risks, but any ball that pitched in his half was swung away with disdain. In all he hit 14 fours and a six. And most of them came off the first few deliveries of the over when Baroda skipper Aditya Waghmode would spread the field. He smashed Swapnil Singh for two fours in the same over, one through the covers and one that galloped past long-off. He was finally out, top-edging a short delivery from Yusuf Pathan to give Waghmode an easy catch at slip. But by then he had taken Mumbai to a sizable total, and added 70 runs for the last wicket with Vishal Dabholkar, who remained unconquered for 5 off 37 balls, having survived at the crease for 98 minutes.
Brief scores: Mumbai 447 in 127.1 overs (Shreyas Iyer 173, Suryakumar Yadav 68, A Nayar 88; Ajitesh Argal 4/67, H Pandya 2/50) vs Baroda 133 for 1 in 45 overs (K Devdhar 84 n.o., Aditya Waghmode 35 no.).