Gautam Gambhir and Kulwant Khejroliya led Delhi into the semi-finals of the Vijay Hazare Trophy 2018-19, starring with a century and a hat-trick respectively, for a five-wicket win over Haryana at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru. Delhi will now face the winner of the Jharkhand-Maharashtra quarter-final at the same venue, on October 18.
Delhi, who had finished second in the combined A and B groups, first dismissed Haryana for 229 thanks to Khejroliya’s 6 for 31. After that Gambhir, celebrating his 37th birthday, smashed 104 off 72 balls as they achieved victory in 39.2 overs.
Khejroliya on his bond with Gambhir
The story of how Kulwant Khejroliya went from waiting on tables in Goa to being discovered in Delhi is now well known. During his early years, Khejroliya had coach Sanjay Bharadwaj to thank for mentoring him, along with Gautam Gambhir. “Sanjay Bhardawaj took care of all my expenses, of stay and food in Delhi. He supported me like a son,” Khejroliya said on Sunday after the quarter-final. “And then Gautam bhaiya, Nitish Rana bhaiya, Unmukt bhaiya are all from the same club, they all supported me.
“When I came to the Lal Bahadur Shastri Cricket Academy, Gautam bhaiya used to practice there. I bowled to him in the nets and he told sir that ‘the boy has a lot of talent, you should focus on him, pay attention to his fitness and diet.’ And whenever he would come, I kept asking him for tips and he used to help me always, tell me which areas to work on. Even now, I ask him if I have any questions. He keeps telling us that if we want to go ahead, we have to play with a certain attitude.”
Haryana’s decision to bat backfired, with two early wickets from Khejroliya reducing them to 37 for 3 in the 10th over. Opener Chaitanya Bishnoi got together with No. 5 Pramod Chandila to raise 140 for the fourth wicket, as Haryana seemed to shake off the early inroads.
However, with the team 177 for 3 in the 39th over and looking good to hit 250-plus, Khejroliya took a hat-trick that included both set men. Coming back into the attack, he got Bishnoi (85) to toe-end the ball as he tried to clear the infield and Gambhir held the catch running back at cover. The next ball, Chandila was castled by one that came back in off the seam, departing for 59. Finally, Amit Mishra was trapped plumb in front with a full delivery, giving Khejroliya his second List A five-wicket haul.
He would go on to get Arun Chaprana too, for his best ever List A figures, bettering the 5 for 22 he took against Uttar Pradesh in March 2017. It marked a fine comeback from injury for Khejroliya who played only two matches towards the end of the league stage, having sat out the rest with a sore elbow.
“Gautam bhaiya told me this is a very important over and if I can get one wicket, it would be brilliant,” Khejroliya said after the match of his hat-trick over. “I wanted to bowl stump to stump with good line and length as there was good reverse as well. There was no plan for the hat-trick ball. I, kind of, wanted to bowl it straight and [it] worked.”
After Bishnoi and Chandila, 18 extras were the next best contribution for Haryana, with no other batsman surpassing 15 as they were bowled out in 49.1 overs.
Haryana’s strength so far in the tournament had been their bowling, but Gambhir took the match away with an aggressive start. Playing his shots from the outset, he got Delhi off to a flier, with the run rate staying above six for three quarters of the chase. Gambhir was severe on all bowlers, and forced Mishra to take Yuzvendra Chahal out of the attack early, smacking him for three fours in his third over. Haryana had gone with a spin-heavy attack that had no less than three legspinners in Chahal, Mishra and Rahul Tewatia, alongwith Jayant Yadav’s offspin. While that was their best attack, it also played into Gambhir’s hands, who is an excellent player of spin.
Gambhir raised his century off just 69 balls, his second of the tournament after the 151 he had made against Kerala in a league match. He has now got 490 runs and sits third on the table, only 12 behind Puneet Bisht, Meghalaya’s professional and Gambhir’s former Delhi team-mate, and Abhinav Mukund, who has 560 runs. Interestingly, before hitting these two hundreds, the last time Gambhir got to three figures in a 50-over game was in an ODI against Sri Lanka in July 2012.
At the other end, Dhruv Shorey gave Gambhir solid support with a patient half-century. Shorey wasn’t always fluent, but stuck around to put on 118 runs in 21.4 overs for the second wicket after Unmukt Chand had been caught behind for 15. Soon, trying to manufacture room to hit Tewatia through the off side, Gambhir missed the ball and dragged his foot outside to be stumped.
Gambhir’s wicket led to a mini-wobble for Delhi, with Tewatia taking three wickets. They went from 172 for 1 to 185 for 4, losing Shorey and Himmat Singh, but with the target not too far away and plenty of time left, Nitish Rana’s quick 37 of 28 balls ensured no further alarms. Rana fell with victory in sight, but by then Delhi had all but booked their semi-final date.