Punjab sniffs victory over Mumbai

Published: Monday, March 21, 2005, 23:53 [IST]
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Mumbai:Punjab stood poised to shock holders Mumbai and enter the Elite Division Ranji Trophy final at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai.

Chasing 294 for victory after conceding a 125-run first innings lead to the champions, Punjab needed 68 more runs to achieve the target with six second innings wickets standing at stumps on day three of the five-day semi-final clash.

The unbeaten batsmen at the crease with an unfinished partnership of 81 runs for the fifth wicket in a Punjab total of 226 for four were experienced wicketkeeper-batsman Pankaj Dharmani, on 47, and talented newcomer Gaurav Gupta, on 34.

This pair guided Punjab from a troublesome 145 for 4 in the 34th over till the 67th over without being separated though Gupta was lucky to be dropped twice in successive overs by home team captain Sairaj Bahutule when he was on 31.

Gupta slashed off-spinner Ramesh Powar and Bahutule failed to clutch on to the catch at point. He then gave a simple return catch in the very next over which was again grassed by the Mumbai skipper.

The foundation of the innings was laid by the two Punjab stalwarts Yuvraj Singh, who made 42 with 6 fours and a six after being reprieved when on 20 by Powar in a total of 82 for two, and skipper Dinesh Mongia, who made a responsible 49.

The two batsmen stitched together an invaluable stand of 78 runs for the third wicket to steady the rocking boat after the dismissals of openers Ravneet Ricky (21) and Reetinder Sodhi (24) with 64 on the board.

Earlier, Mumbai were all out for 168 in the second essay after starting the day at the overnight 112 for eight.

Had the three chances been accepted, in particular the dropped catch by Powar at short extra cover off Kulkarni that gave a fresh lease of life to Yuvraj when the Punjab innings was shaky, Mumbai would have been on top.

Yuvraj, given the lifeline, and Mongia went about repairing the innings with diligent batting before both were induced into false strokes by Ajit Agarkar who beat them repeatedly outside the off stump.

The two had joined forces after openers Ricky and Sodhi launched the innings on an aggressive note to put on 36 runs in only 23 balls. But it was too good to last and the former fell in trying another forcing shot off medium pacer Avishkar Salvi and snicked to keeper Vinayak Samant.

Sodhi also tried too many ambitious shots and was trapped in front by Agarkar before Yuvraj and Mongia, who hit eight fours, came together to steady the innings.

Agarkar sent both the batsmen back in the space of 13 balls to apply the skids. Another wicket at this stage might have put Mumbai firmly in the saddle.

But Dharmani, who played watchfully and hit 3 fours and a six in his 144-minute stay, and Gupta, who has hit 4 fours in his 127-minute vigil, batted cautiously.

Mumbai tried various combinations to break the stand but failed to succeed and when the chances came their way in successive overs, the hosts were found wanting.

In the morning Mumbai kept Punjab on the field for more than an hour and a half. Nilesh Kulkarni's stubborn knock came to an end only after 133 minutes. He made 22 and also put on 75 runs for the ninth wicket with Nishit Shetty who was last out after a well-made 69.

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