Ranji Trophy: Parents watch Jalaj Saxena reach 400 first-class wickets, match rare feat of Kapil Dev, Lala Amarnath

Jalaj Saxena took his 400th wicket on Friday to join an elite list of Indian players, which includes the likes of C K Nayudu, Lala Amarnath, Kapil Dev, who have scored 6,000 runs or more and taken 400 wickets or more in first-class cricket. In fact, the off-spinning allrounder is the only player to have achieved the feat despite never playing for India.

To make the moment doubly sweet, he accomplished the feat in front of his parents, Ghanshyam Saxena and Manju Saxena, who had come all the way from Madhya Pradesh to Kerala to see their son play for his adopted state.

Thanks to Jalaj’s career-best figures of 8/36, Kerala dismissed Services for 136 and registered a 204-run win, at St Xavier’s College Ground, Thiruvananthapuram. The win was their third in five matches, consolidating their place as second in Elite Group C behind Karnataka.

“I’m very happy that Kerala have won the match and it gives us a chance to qualify. It felt nice to reach the landmark of 400 wickets in front of my parents. They were watching me play for Kerala for the first time. It all fell into place for me today and I was happy with the way I bowled,” Jalaj, 36, told The Indian Express after the game.

“We were not aware that he was close to 400 wickets. It was only when he came to us during lunch break and told us about the landmark that we became aware of it. He did well for Madhya Pradesh for several years and it’s good to see him now doing well, or even better, for Kerala,” his father Ghanshyam said.

Jalaj now has 6,495 runs and 403 wickets in 131 first-class matches. He has scored 14 centuries and taken five or more wickets in a single innings 27 times, and ten or more wickets in a full match seven times. With 43 wickets in five games, he is comfortably the leading wicket-taker this Ranji Trophy season. He has now taken 40 or more wickets in all the seasons from 2017-18 apart from the truncated last season in which Kerala played only three group-stage games.

Jalaj’s consistency has, over the years, been overlooked when it comes to the national team selection and he now seems at peace with what fate has in store for him. “I’m okay if it’s only the Ranji Trophy (that I get to play). For me, each first-class wicket, run and win are precious,” he said.

Jalaj, who switched over from Madhya Pradesh to Kerala at the start of the 2016-17 season, is pleased with how the move has panned out. “Kerala is like home only for me. We have been playing an aggressive brand of cricket. The camaraderie in the team has been good. I feel happy to have contributed to Kerala reaching the knockouts of the Ranji Trophy twice in a row (2017-18, 2018-19) and it will be nice if we get to do it once more this time around and go further,” he said.

Ghanshyam, who had been employed with Madhya Pradesh Police, Border Security Force and Bhilai Steel Plant, remembers a piece of advice he had given Jalaj and his elder brother Jatin, also a first-class cricketer, when they were children. “I told them you have to focus on one thing: either education or sport. You can’t have your feet in two boats. In India, cricket is the sport everyone is interested in and both of them have excelled in it and made us parents proud.”

Brief scores: Kerala 327 (Sachin Baby 159, Sijomon Joseph 55) & 242/7 decl. (Sachin Baby 93) bt Services 229 (Ravi Chauhan 50, Sijomon Joseph 3/15, Jalaj Saxena 3/66) & 136 (Sufiyan Alam 52, Jalaj Saxena 8/36) by 204 runs.

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