April 8, 2001

Railways sniff outright victory over Punjab

Staff Reporter

A dramatic Punjab collapse late on the fourth day of their Ranji Trophy semifinal at Mohali's PCA Stadium handed Railways a gilt-edged opportunity of making their first Ranji final in 13 years. Punjab's cause was not helped by three runouts, as they slumped from 323/3 to 356 all out in the final session. At stumps, Railways were three without loss from two overs, pursuing a target of 199 to win outright and emulate the class of 1987/88, which however lost to Tamil Nadu at Chepauk.

Punjab went into the fourth day trailing by 152 with all ten second innings wickets in hand, and knowing their only hope of forcing an unlikely victory lay in setting a frantic pace. They did so through the first two sessions on Sunday thanks to half centuries by four of their top five. Openers Ravneet Ricky and Manish Sharma handed Punjab a splendid platform by raising 97 for the first wicket in just 19.3 overs.

Sharma was in particularly belligerent form, clubbing 61 off just 56 balls, including eight fours and two sixes in consecutive balls off left arm spinner TP Singh, the first of which brought up his fifty. But Singh had the last laugh, luring him outside the safety of the crease with a flighted delivery outside leg stump, for keeper Abhay Sharma to complete the stumping. Ricky and skipper Vikram Rathour proceeded to compile 51 for the second wicket. Unlike his opening partner, Ricky played a tenacious hand, foraging 54 runs off 113 balls, before being caught behind off Kulamani Parida. Rathour was caught at slip off the same bowler soon after for 31 to leave Punjab in some discomfort at 159/3. Both Ricky and Rathour were unhappy at the decisions handed out by umpire S Banerjee.

Pankaj Dharmani and Reetinder Sodhi collaborated in a rescue operation as the hosts went into tea at 272/3. There was little inkling of the action to follow as the pair extended their association to 164 when Sodhi was castled by the medium pace of Harvinder Singh, as he went for an expansive cover drive, for 89 (104 balls, 7 fours, 1 six).

It was the first of seven wickets that tumbled for 33 in a mere 11.2 overs. Dharmani was run out for 77 by a smart throw from Santosh Sahu at short third man as Ankur Kakkar invited him for a sharp single. None of the last six batsmen crossed 4 as Punjab subsided for 356. Singh bowled 40 overs on the trot for final pickings of 3/132 while the off spinner Parida closed with figures of 3/72 in 21.2 overs.