WINNING IS everything in sport. It is the be all and end all of sport, it is the sole purpose of playing, of competing. But winning can be achieved through various means and methods. A team can win ugly, never really looking in control of the match, and yet managing to scrape through, or a team can win with élan, playing breathtaking cricket, putting in a such a dominating performance that defeat never really looks like an option.
On Monday evening, when Baroda's Yusuf Pathan was smashing the Delhi bowlers to all parts of the Maharani Usharaje Ground, and outside it too, Delhi skipper Gautam Gambhir looked lost and dejected. He was fast running out of ideas, and bowling options, and the Ranji semi-final looked to be slipping out of Delhi's hands.
Exactly 24 hours later, however, Gambhir was looking anything but dejected. Smiling from ear-to-ear, the soft-spoken southpaw sat in the Delhi dressing room like a man at complete peace with himself. And why shouldn't he have? He had just played one of the best innings this Ranji season to guide his team to their first Ranji final in 16 years. Gambhir scored a peerless 132 in Delhi's pursuit of the fourth innings target of 271. Delhi won the match by 7 wickets to book a final showdown with Uttar Pradesh in Mumbai.
But that wasn't looking like being the case on Monday, Yusuf Pathan was in a murderous mood and looked all set to bat Delhi out of a win. The Delhi bowlers, however, bounced back with a vengeance on Tuesday to capture the last four Baroda wickets for a further 61 runs. Pathan finally falling for
113 off just 81 balls to Bhandari.
Chasing a target in the fourth innings is never the easiest thing to do, and it becomes even tougher when your team has been under the cosh the previous day. Add to that a pitch where the odd ball has been keeping dangerously low, and a target of 271 becomes rather dangerous.
But none of that seemed to matter to Gambhir when he went out to bat with Shikhar Dhawan. He looked determined to get to that target, and wanted the job done today itself. And boy, didn't he get the job done!
Gambhir drove, Gambhir cut and Gambhir swept Baroda out of the Ranji Trophy. He batted like a man possessed, not sparing any bowler, as he raced to his third century this season with a spanking on-drive off Rajesh Pawar.
A good batsman is often one that can shift gears as and when he wants to, hang in there when the going is tough and accelerate when on top.
And Gambhir did that perfectly. He first studied the pitch -- the bounce it had to offer, the cracks that had developed - and then, once he had the hang of it, upped the tempo in no time. Gambhir was in 'the zone', if there indeed is one. No matter who bowled, no matter where he bowled, Gambhir was finding the fence. Together with Dhawan, Gambhir put on 136 runs for the first wicket, before Dhawan was run out for 48.
There looked no way back for Baroda with Gambhir batting the way he was, and though they did manage to get rid of Gambhir for 132, Aditya Jain (39*) and Rajat Bhatia (6*) took Delhi to a most convincing win and the Ranji final.
And so, the fairytale continues.
Baroda 1st innings 199
Delhi 1st innings 271
Baroda 2nd innings (S Parab b P Awana 11, C Williams c P Bisht b P Awana 0, A Bilakhia b R Bhatia 17, R Solanki lbw b R Bhatia 96, S Gaekwad c & b P Awana 46, P Shah b C Nanda 15, Y Pathan c A Jain b A Bhandari 113, R Pawar run out (Manhas) 11, S Vohra not out 24, S Singh lbw b R Bhatia 0, S Veragi c & b C Nanda 1, Extras - b 6, lb 1, nb 1 - 8).
Total (all out; 98.2 overs) 342
Fall of wickets: 1-11, 2-12, 3-56, 4-135, 5-160, 6-278, 7-303, 8-325, 9-326, 10-342.
Bowling: A Bhandari 19-6-56-1, S Narwal 25-7-78-0, P Awana 16-0-74-3, R Bhatia 11-1-42-3, C Nanda 18.2-4-53-2, M Manhas 7-0-13-0, A Jain 2-0-19-0.
Delhi 2nd innings (target: 271 runs) (S Dhawan run out (Solanki) 48, G Gambhir c Williams b Pathan 132, A Jain not out 39, M Manhas c Williams b Veragi 36, R Bhatia not out 6; Extras - lb 8, nb 3 - 11).
Total (3 wickets; 79.4 overs) 272
Fall of wickets: 1-136, 2-211, 3-266.
Bowling: Sumit Singh 16-1-59-0, S Veragi 11.4-2-43-1, S Vohra 16-5-34-0, Y Pathan 25-3-83-1, R Pawar 11-3-45-0.