The equation is now pretty clear. Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) require 247 runs to make history. Punjab, on the other hand, need to take eight wickets to stop the J&K juggernaut and book a place in the Ranji Trophy semifinals. Perhaps Parvez Rasool & Co have already exceeded all expectations, including their own. For, not many gave them a real chance of making a match out of this, forget having a 50-50 chance of winning going into the final innings of the quarterfinal.
But somehow J&K have managed to do just that. Not only have they disallowed Punjab to run away with the game at any point, they have also kept the pressure on them to maintain an even keel. In fact, at one point on the third day, J&K had their fancied opponents by the scruff of their necks. At 50/5 in their second innings, with just a lead of 77, if anything Harbhajan Singh’s team was on the mat and nearly down for the count.
If not for Mandeep Singh’s century, J&K looked well on track to create one of the biggest upsets in Ranji Trophy history on Friday itself. But it wasn’t to be as the talented right-hander stroked his way to a fighting ton to drag his team to safety. There was help on offer with Yuvraj Singh and Gurkeerat Singh providing defiant company at the other end, and eventually Mandeep’s 101 ensured that the Punjab bowlers were left with a big enough total to defend at the Moti Bagh ground in Baroda.
Back on track
The recovery began when Yuvraj was joined by Mandeep. The first five wickets had been blown away by seamers Umar Nazir and Mohammed Mudhasir. The onus was clearly on Yuvraj, especially after he had fallen cheaply in the first innings, to save the day for his team. For a while, he did do just that while also helping Mandeep get settled at the crease. The two added 62 for the sixth wicket, the seasoned left-hander even hitting Rasool for a massive six.
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It was a crucial knock for Mandeep. Not long ago, the 22-year old was counted in the upper echelons of Indian second string batsmen. He was touted to be one for the future, having averaged over 50 and 70 in his first two domestic seasons respectively. Since then, however, he has struggled to keep up that early momentum, and has averaged in his mid-thirties.
This was a great opportunity for Mandeep to set that record straight and to send another reminder to the all concerned that he still had it in him to turn heads. Despite the precarious position of his team, he remained positive, especially with Gurkeerat playing a steady innings at the other end. An attractive batsman in the Mandeep mould, the right-hander played a few attractive shots through the covers, using his feet well agianst Rasool.
Mandeep then hit back-to-back fours to reach his seventh first-class ton. His rescue act aided with an aggressive contribution from Manpreet Gony down the order, brought Punjab back into a match that they were supposed to dominate. Yet again, Rasool did manage to hog the spotlight, this time with the ball, finishing with a five-wicket haul to double up his heroic century in J&K’s first innings.
J&K will now hope that their skipper’s dream run continues and that he ends up as the toast of what could easily turn out to be the biggest day of the lives of this history making J&K side.
Brief scores: Punjab 304 & 296 (M Singh 101, G Singh 66; P Rasool 5/58, M Mudhasir 2/47) vs J&K 277 & 77/2 (A Rishi 34, H Singh 20 batting, ID Singh 17 batting)