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December 9, 2011
Himachal Pradesh gained the first-innings lead that was enough to secure them a place in the semi-finals and consign Kerala to another season in the Plate League. HP were favourites coming into the final day in Kannur, having posted a solid 452 before reducing Kerala to 249 for 7. The team which took the first-innings lead in the match was almost certainly guaranteed to qualify. HP duly booked their place by taking less than four overs to remove the final three Kerala wickets, which reduced the rest of the day to a formality. Kerala batted again and made 209 for 4, rendered meaningless as the three points which HP gained for the first-innings lead pushed Kerala to third place and out of the race.
Andhra had to be content with a hard-fought first-innings lead against Vidarbha in Cuddapah. Their chances of progressing to the semi-finals depended on them defeating table-toppers Vidarbha by an innings or 10 wickets, something which was virtually out of the equation after the opposition batsmen gritted it out for almost two entire days. Andhra's overnight batsmen, Prasanth Kumar and AG Pradeep, both went on to complete centuries to lift the total beyond Vidarbha's first-innings effort of 382, though that didn't prevent Vidharba from making the semi-finals. Andhra finished in fourth place, on 12 points.
The match between the two teams in the group who were eliminated even before the round began proved to be the most interesting one. Instead of a bore draw, Services and Tripura played out a tightly contested match in Agartala, in which Services eventually emerged victors by six wickets. Half-centuries from opener Jasvir Singh and Soumyaranjan Swain proved enough to guide Services to the target of 217, which gave them their first win of the season, and also made it a tight group - the top five teams were separated by only four points. Tripura, by contrast, ended on one point from the season, a full ten points behind their nearest competitor.
Maharashtra, the only team to cement their place in the semi-finals before this round began, finished off their league phase in style. Though their match against Assam in Guwahati seemed to be heading for a draw at the start of the fourth day, they sparked an astonishing second-innings Assam collapse before beating the clock as they knocked off the 218 needed to secure their third win of the season, more than any other team has managed so far. Akshya Darekar started Assam's slide before Samad Fallah mopped up the tail - both bowlers finished with four wickets. Assam's final seven batsmen were dismissed for 62 runs.
The job was still not done though. Opener Chirag Khurana's brisk 88 set the base for the tricky chase, and though he was dismissed 50 runs away from the target, Maharashtra didn't ease off. Nikhil Paradkar and Sangram Atitkar both scored at more than a run-a-ball to complete the final stretch before time ran out.
Hyderabad needed just one point to be absolutely certain of making the semi-finals, a goal they easily achieved despite conceding the first-innings lead against Jammu & Kashmir at Uppal. They needed to bat out much of the final day to ensure the draw which would be enough to send them through. Centuries from T Suman and Akshath Reddy ensured there were no anxious moments of Friday, as Hyderabad coasted to 296 for 2 by stumps.
There was plenty of excitement in Jamshedpur where though both Goa and Jharkhand were already pretty much eliminated, there was a tight contest. Chasing 234, Goa's overnight pair of Ryan D'Souza and Vidyadar Kamath had seemingly put their team on course, with half-centuries and a 133-run second-wicket stand. However, from 133 for 1, Goa stumbled to 188 all out as Jharkhand's spin pair of Shahbaz Nadeem and Samar Quadri shared nine wickets to fashion an unlikely victory. It was Jharkhand's first win of the season, and lifted them to the fourth spot, tied on nine points with Goa.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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