When he was 11 and started his cricketing journey under Arvind Pujara, Arpit Vasavada imbibed the batting ethos and became close friends with the coach’s son Cheteshwar. At 31, a year younger than Cheteshwar, Saurashtra’s gritty middle-order batsman craved a special knock in a crunch game. A big hundred, like his friend scores routinely, seeped in the batting method of coach Arvind. The left-handed batsman found himself in one such situation in the semifinal against Gujarat and with Cheteshwar not available, he delivered, turning the game on its head and perching Saurashtra on top.
When Saurashtra were tottering at 15 for 5 in their second innings after letting Gujarat wriggle out of trouble with the bat, it seemed like they had blown a great opportunity. But Vasavada’s 139 from 230 balls triggered a stunning comeback. Saurashtra made 274 and the 52-run first-innings lead swelled the target to 327. Then Saurashtra captain Jaydev Unadkat removed opener Priyam Panchal to leave Gujarat needing 320 runs on the final day to enter the Ranji Trophy final. They have to go for the target as a draw would terminate Gujarat’s journey in the tournament.
Vasavada says he was relaxed as his team began the second innings after taking a first-innings lead. But he didn’t expect five wickets to go down as quickly as they did. It took vital partnerships with Chetan Sakaria (45) and Chirag Jani, who hit 51 in a 109-run stand for the seventh wicket, to bring Saurashtra back in the contest.
“I never imagined that (five early wickets). I told Chetan [Sakaria] that we will take it over-by-over first and later try build a small partnership. The good thing was later, Chirag bhai [Jani] also batted well and we could manage to reach a safe total,” Vasavada said.
He also explained what the knock in a crunch game means to him. “I always wanted this. I have hit crucial 50-60s in crunch games but nobody remembers the fifties, everyone remembers a hundred. When Chetan got out, I said nothing doing, I will have to bat till the last.”
Vasavada was the last batsman to fall, caught at deep square-leg, attempting a hook in pursuit of more runs.
The left-hander was hopeful that seamer Chintan Gaja, who had taken the first five wickets, won’t have the same effect once the ball lost its shine. “If you see, all the wickets fell with the new ball.”
He says he also felt that Gaja wasn’t finding the right line to left-handed batsmen like him and Sakaria. “Chintan was bowling well to right-handers but somehow he wasn’t finding his right line for left-handed batsman. Chetan and me took advantage of it. Now I am hoping our bowlers do the job on the final day. It will be a good contest.”
If the Saurashtra bowlers do the needul, it will also mean that Vasavada’s innings would be classified as a match-winning hundred.
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