“Celebrate kya?” With a calmness that belies his age and his chosen craft, Jasprit Bumrah de-emphasised his career-best spell that crushed Jharkhand’s hopes in the semifinal and put his side in the Ranji final after 66 years and on course to their maiden Ranji title. “It would look silly if I celebrate now and relax before the big game,” the Gujarat spoke with the sort of measured composure of seen-it-all veterans. He was obviously referring to the final, though it was Mumbai they would play was yet to be formalised.
The evening after his most memorable day under the domestic sun, brought forth the news that it would be Mumbai they would tussle for the priced piece of silverware. Now, there were all the more reasons for Bumrah, and the entire Gujarat team, to look forward. And all the more reasons for them to put their celebrations on hold. But little did then Bumrah know of the news that would filter in two evenings later-that he was in the limited-over squad that plays England. It must not have been an overwhelming surprise for him or his teammates, for he has been a short-form regular since his debut series in Australia last year.
If ever Bumrah nursed mixed feelings of being summoned for national duties, this must have been it. His domestic side on the cusp of history, he himself being a pervading protagonist in their narrative, and then being deprived of it in the end. For all one knows, maybe such a moment as this would never arrive or beckon again, given the competitiveness of the Ranji grind. It’s a touch tragicomic for him, irrespective of whether Gujarat win or lose.
It’s not that this was the first instance of Bumrah being summoned for national duties during the domestic season – he missed a few games earlier in the campaign as well during the ODI series against New Zealand – and neither would be it be the last time that Gujarat will have to make do without him in crunch fixtures, but its the sheer context that makes him miss Gujarat and inversely.
His skipper Parthiv Patel is not brooding over it. He had a sense of foreboding that he would miss his most potent bowler for the biggest game in Gujarat’s otherwise nondescript cricketing history.
“I was more or less sure that he won’t play in the final. He deserves to be there (in the Indian team). He has bowled fantastically well throughout the season. We can’t do anything about it. If he is not around, he is not around,” he says, trying and to an extend succeeding, in sounding realistic.
The realism soon makes way for optimism, “It gives an opportunity for another bowler to step in and do well in the final.” It sounds more of wishfulness than belief, for obviously any skipper is bound to miss his side’s enforcer-designate and an insuperable X factor, someone, who at his peak, could take the pitch out of the equation, a point his coach Vijay Patel had frequently stressed in the past.
Parthiv, though, takes considerable succour from the past that two of Gujarat’s finest wins this season-a 294-run chastening of Railways and a 132-run walloping of Uttar Pradesh-have come without his services.
“A couple of outright games we have won this season, we were without Axar (Patel, the injured left-arm spinner) and Jasprit. So we can take confidence into the final.”
Those, though, were achieved on a typically green surface in Lahli at the start of winter and whimsical track in Palam, where the absence of Bumrah and their deficient spin cupboard were glossed over.
The surface in Indore bears no resemblance to the Lahli types, though the generous coating of grass must have pleased him. But unlike in Lahli, the red-soil layered Indore pitches haven’t traditionally allied the seamers throughout the game. Swing, if any, will be limited to the first hour of the morning sessions, though there will be sufficient bounce throughout the match, which would aggravate Bumrah’s absence.
However, it would be impish to devalue a Gujarat side, even without Bumrah. A cursory glance at their numbers would prove thus. Young left-arm seamer Rush Kalaria is their leading wicket-taker (26), another hitherto-anonymous medium pacer Hardik Patel has 20 to his name and the guileful RP Singh has belatedly shown the spark that had seen him being raved about at the next biggest pace sensation in India pomp.
He looks stockier, with abs that are a throwback to the sport’s amateur genes, but if the conditions and mood ally, he could still be as penetrative.
For further inspiration, Gujarat can dwell on their opposite dressing room. For much of the season, Mumbai had ploughed away without their most reliable workhorse, Dhawal Kulkarni, a 73-match veteran with an incredible sense of occasion and penchant for big-match performances, like for instance the five-for against Saurashtra in last year’s final. Mumbai can carp on that he got injured, just at a time when he had looked so incisive, with 20 wickets from the only four matches he played this season.
“Obviously, he is one of most senior players around, and we miss not only his bowling but also his presence on the field and the dressing room. But we have managed to find good replacements,” reflects Mumbai skipper Aditya Tare.
Then, they have unearthed new bowling heroes this season. Left-arm spinner Vijay Gohil has picked 27 wickets from six matches, medium pacer Tushar Deshpande has whittled out 21 from eight matches. It’s in a sense of symbolic of Mumbai cricket, players seamlessly transitioning from age-group to first-class cricket. Maybe, it also had to do with the fact that Mumbai are historically used to being defected by the national side, that they are always ready with contingency plans and alternatives.
Opening batsman Prithvi Shaw is another case in point, and Tare believes it’s not a happenstance or fluke that Mumbai continue to churn out such players. It’s in their chromosome, he says. “It’s (Mumbai cricket) is so tough that once a player makes his first-class debut, he is well equipped and knows that he has to make the most of the given opportunities,” observes Tare.
It’s mentally infused and then carefully nurtured right from the childhood days. “In his very first speech in the team meeting Prithvi said he wants to win the Ranji Trophy. Obviously every season when we start, our first goal is to win the Ranji Trophy. It’s the standard that we’ve been brought up in. We may qualify every season, but if we don’t win Ranji Trophy it’s an unsuccessful season, whereas for other states, qualification itself is a big thing,” he points out.
He probably wouldn’t have meant Gujarat was one such side, who enters the ring with just the dream of reaching the knockouts. Even if he meant so, it wouldn’t have been farther from the truth.
Parthiv concurs as much, but he is stoically positive than his side can accomplish something special that would change perceptions. And replicate that fabled Mumbai intractable efficacy.