What a difference a day makes. Firmly on the back foot at the close of play yesterday in their Ranji Trophy plate group match against Bihar, Meghalaya turned things around in spectacular style to win the match by four wickets at the MCA Ground here today.
The third day began with Bihar on 73/3, leading the hosts by 170 with plenty of time still available. However, in a bowling spell that will be remembered in the annals of Meghalaya cricket, Bihar lost seven wickets for just 26 runs to be bowled out for 99, which set Meghalaya a target of 197 to win.
This they accomplished after tea thanks in a big way to Swarajeet Das, who struck a peerless 81. Victory over the second team in the group reinforces Meghalaya’s position as the top team, which should get them promoted to an elite group next season, with 19 points to Bihar’s 10.
Earlier in the game, Bihar made 264 in their first innings, to which Meghalaya responded with 167, a large deficit of 97. This, incidentally, is the second time in three Ranji matches this season that Meghalaya have conceded a first innings deficit and still won the fixture.
It was all pace today morning, with Abhishek Kumar ripping through the Bihar batting to claim figures of 4/26 in what was only his second first-class match. Akash K Choudhury (4/41) had taken a wicket yesterday and returned to bag another three today. These are the best first-class figures for both fast bowlers. All this left nothing to do for guest professional Rajesh Bishnoi, who was not able to add to his overnight tally of 2/19. With his career-best 6/60 in the first innings, the spinner finished the match with 8/79.
The runs Bishnoi would contribute in the chase led to him being named Player of the Match. He came in with Meghalaya on 133/5, still 64 runs from the win, and he made an unbeaten 26, even hitting a sublime four through the covers to win the game.
However, it did not start all that well for the hosts, with both openers back in the pavilion with 14 on the board and they lost the third wicket with the scoreboard reading 43.
It was then that Das came into his own, in partnership with guest professional-captain-wicketkeeper Punit Bisht, who has been celebrating his 100th first-class match appearance. The pair put on 68 for the fourth wicket, with Bisht eventually bowled for 34.
Dippu Ch Sangma then came in and made a rapid 19 from 12 deliveries and when he got out Bishnoi came in to be the rock while Das kept the runs ticking.
A quick single down the ground brought up his fifty, which was exactly a run-a-ball. The innings just got better after that even as his scoring rate slowed, mindful not to let Meghalaya suffer the same fate as Bihar earlier in the day.
Although it would not have been possible for him to reach a century, the way he was batting means that Das should not have to wait too much longer. He almost saw the match through but fished at a ball outside the off stump and was caught behind for 81 from 93, which included seven fours and one six. This is his second half-century in only nine innings of first-class cricket.
His dismissal gave Bihar a small fillip. The temperature was beginning to drop and the skies darken but, after being dropped, Lerry Sangma struck a boundary to ease the pressure. He ended not out for 9 but it was Bishnoi who had the honour of striking the winning runs.
Meghalaya Cricket Association President Mr Naba Bhattacharjee was nervously pacing the ground as the state team got closer to the target and he did a dance to celebrate the nerve-wracking win. He later praised the performance and fair play of Bihar, noting how they and Meghalaya had once played together in an Associate & Affiliate team in BCCI competitions before they were accepted as full members.
Later, a cake was shared out between the Meghalaya players to mark Bisht’s landmark. He has been playing his cricket for Meghalaya since its maiden season in BCCI cricket, back in 2018.
Meghalaya will now go on the road to take on Arunachal Pradesh in Anand, Gujarat, from 3 January.