Rajneesh Gurbani had an uneasy sleep last night. He woke up at 12.30 am and then at 4.30 am. “Both times I had a dream that the final day’s play was about to begin,” the Vidarbha medium pacer would later reveal, after the match. He carried nerves to the field on the fifth day. It affected his performance a little. But he regained his composure in time and eked out a memorable victory for his side, with a 12-wicket match haul, and burst into tears of joy.
Over the last five days, Gurbani became the most talked about player in the Ranji Trophy semifinal at Eden Gardens. The majority of his wickets – five in the first innings and seven in the second – were well planned. His line and length were excellent – full and in the corridor. His swing, both ways, was natural. Eden Gardens curator Sujan Mukherjee, a former first-class player for Bengal, compared Gurbani with a young Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
Like Kumar of the 2008-2009 vintage, who handed Sachin Tendulkar his maiden duck in Indian first-class cricket in a Ranji Trophy final, Gurbani, too, has a smooth run-up to the crease. Their pace is pretty similar. Like Kumar those days, the Vidarbha lad also bowls at around 132-133kph. Both strive for a good length. Gurbani, too, is a natural mover of the ball. Similarities exist in their frames; lithe and wiry. Their use of the crease provides another common thread. But Gurbani is more of a skiddy operator, because his front knee doesn’t collapse at the point of delivery release. His follow-through is also a work in progress. “I need to work on it,” Gurbani admitted.
Vidarbha Ranji coach Chandrakant Pandit described Gurbani as a “shy” person who “doesn’t express himself” in the dressing room. “Of late, he has started to describe the thought process behind his wickets. But he has a very sharp mind, which helps him read the batsmen well,” Pandit told The Indian Express.
That sharp mind came to the fore several times in the semifinal. Stuart Binny’s scalp on Wednesday was a case in point. The out-swinger is Gurbani’s stock ball, but he quickly spotted Binny’s tentative feet movement against the incoming deliveries. He made one swing back late to cut the Karnataka all-rounder in half. The ball narrowly missed the inside edge. His next ball was pretty similar, only a little fuller. The ball moved in the air viciously from outside off-stump to strike the batsman on the pad in front of off and middle. Binny was caught in the crease and out LBW.
Gurbani had an interesting duel with Karun Nair, Karnataka’s best batsman in this game by a distance. Nair had scored a century in the first innings, eschewing the cover drive and playing on the up. The seamer, however, managed to sow doubts in Nair’s mind in the second dig. He bowled a few in-swingers – the ball was swinging in from fairly outside the off-stump – from wide of the crease and then, without going close to the stumps he bowled an out-swinger. Nair was drawn forward by the angle and the away movement deceived him to play away from his body. The dismissal proved to be a mini-turning point.
On Thursday morning, Gurbani kept tempting Abhimanyu Mithun, bowling outside the off-stump with a square third man and deep point in place. The tail-ender was connecting well and taking Karnataka closer to victory. But the bowler didn’t change his approach and eventually had Mithun caught at deep point. “I decided to back myself and stuck to the plan,” Gurbani said.
“That guy (Gurbani) really made a difference. He was bowling long spells. He was bowling in the channel, where our batsmen (stroke-players) were not comfortable,” Karnataka captain Vinay Kumar praised the Vidarbha quick.
Gurbani consistently hits the right areas and occasionally bowls a pretty deceptive short ball. Pandit stressed that Gurbani has the ability to bowl on any kind of surface. The bowler, on the other hand, credited Pandit and also Vidarbha cricket head coach, Subroto Banerjee, for his steady progress. “One day, sir (Pandit) instructed me to bowl only in-swingers at the nets. We did a lot of match simulation also, where I had to bowl in-swingers only. This is how I managed to make my incoming deliveries better. Chandu sir carried the reputation of a hard taskmaster when he joined the team as coach ahead of the season. Before his arrival, someone told me he would either make you better or would tell you not to waste your time in cricket, if you are not good enough. I liked that. This is how it should be. He and Subroto Banerjee sir made big contributions to my development,” Gurbani said.
The year 2017 is proving to be a breakthrough season for the 24-year-old civil engineer from Nagpur, who now has 27 scalps in his last three matches, including four five-fors. It was Gurbani’s “dream” to share the new ball with Umesh Yadav, his idol. Umesh spoke about his understudy in glowing terms. “If someone represents the country from Vidarbha after me, I would be the happiest person. He (Gurbani) has the potential.”