Kerala’s dash for the finish line
A stirring fourth-innings chase by Kerala handed them a victory against Himachal Pradesh and six points, vaulting the team into the Ranji Trophy 2018-19 quarter-finals. Kerala will join Vidarbha, Saurashtra, Karnataka, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand in the quarter-finals.
The identity of the teams that eventually qualified depended largely on two games on the final day of the league phase: Kerala’s match against Himachal, and Punjab’s game against Bengal.
Himachal declared on their overnight 285 for 8, setting Kerala a target of 297 at the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Stadium in Nadaun. Kerala responded brilliantly, getting to 299 for 5 in 67 overs. Vinoop Manoharan, who was promoted to open the innings, hit 96 off 143 to set the chase on track. There was a brief wobble when Manoharan and Mohammed Azharuddeen fell in quick succession, but an 88-run stand for the fifth wicket off 104 balls between captain Sachin Baby (92 off 134) and Sanju Samson (61* off 53) put Kerala on the brink of victory. Himachal had declared, having scored rapidly in their second innings, because they themselves were chasing victory to progress to the knockouts.
However, Kerala won the race, and now have 26 points to show, level with Gujarat and Baroda, but ahead on quotient. Gujarat edged out Baroda in turn due to a higher quotient, and thus booked their place in the knockouts.
An inconsequential draw
Either of Bengal or Punjab could have upset the equations if their match had ended in an outright result, but despite a valiant chase by Punjab, it produced a draw. Punjab had taken a stranglehold early in the match, replying to Bengal’s 187 with 447. Bengal, however, showed plenty of spunk in their 432 for 6 declared in the second innings. Abhimanyu Easwaran ended a superb season with 201 not-out, his first double-hundred, while captain Manoj Tiwary made 105 as Bengal ensured they would stave off defeat. Tiwary then gave Punjab 16 overs to chase 173. In a surprise move, Manpreet Gony was promoted to No. 3 and he smashed 58 off 28, but with Punjab 132 for 5 in 15 overs, the teams shook hands. It was Gony’s second half-century in the match, following a career-best 69 not-out in the first innings.
But while Bengal emerged with an honourable draw, what both teams needed going in was an outright win – and denied that, neither could finish in the top five of the combined A and B groups to qualify for the knockouts.
The Jharkhand heartbreak
Despite the entire first day being washed out at the Gandhi Memorial Science College Ground in Jammu, Jharkhand beat Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) by an innings and 48 runs. Saurabh Tiwary’s 134 underpinned their batting effort, while Shahbaz Nadeem led the way with the ball once again, taking 4 for 43 as J&K were bowled out for 120 on the final day. The win took Jharkhand to 40 points, just behind Uttar Pradesh, who went through with 41 points.
Jharkhand were badly hit by the previous round, when Tripura’s dawdle meant only 22 overs were bowled in an extended final session, stopping Jharkhand at 144 for 7 when set 153 to win. That left Jharkhand with only three points for a first-innings lead, when a win would have given them six points.
Punjab, too, will look back on this season as one of near-misses. In their first match, they replied to Andhra’s 423 with 414, missing out on a first-innings lead by just ten runs. Later on, Hyderabad made 317, and Punjab were bowled out for 303 in reply. They still had perhaps the most exciting chase of the season, finishing on 324 for 8 when set 338 to win, led by an inspired century from Shubman Gill. Then came another near-miss in the final league game. They were similarly affected in the Vijay Hazare Trophy in September-October 2018, having to share points with Goa after piling on 359 for 4 and reducing Goa to 46 for 2 in ten overs before rain arrived, a result that materially affected their chances of making the quarterfinals.