Openers lead strong Punjab reply
Punjab 150 for 1 (Jiwanjot 77*, Ravi Inder 37) trail Jharkhand 401 (Jaggi 132, S Kaul 4-78, Ladda 4-118) by 251 runs
On what was the first full day's play in Jamshedpur, Punjab held the upper hand in all three sessions to put them on course to taking the advantage against the hosts Jharkhand.
Riding on four-wicket hauls by the seamer Siddarth Kaul and legspinner Sarabjit Ladda , the Group A toppers first restricted Jharkhand to a first-innings total of 401. The opener Jiwanjot Singh then continued his dream debut season with an unbeaten fifty, adding two vital partnerships to help Punjab end the day at 150 for 1.
As the teams reached the stadium in the morning, they were in for a surprise with the sun shining brightly for the first time in the game. With no fog around, the game started as per schedule. Jharkhand would have hoped for their overnight centurion Ishank Jaggi to continue their march towards a big first-innings total along with Sunny Gupta.
However, the Punjab pace duo of Kaul and Manpreet Gony bowled a nagging line to deprive Jaggi and Gupta easy singles. With runs hard to come by at the start of the day, it was easier for Ladda and Harbhajan Singh to take over from the pacers. They maintained the pressure, and a wicket eventually came in the 13th over of the day.
Ladda decided to change the angle and bowl round the wicket to Jaggi, who edged one that pitched just outside the leg stump to Mandeep Singh at first slip. With the score at 340 for 7, Punjab looked to wind up the Jharkhand innings quickly.
But they had to toil for another hour before tasting success. Gupta and Shahbaz Nadeem survived several edges and leg-before appeals and with lunch around the corner, it seemed as if they would comfortably take Jharkhand towards 450. However, just before the interval, Ladda got Nadeem to scoop one to Jiwanjot at short leg. The Jharkhand innings lasted just two overs after lunch as Kaul sent Shankar Rao's middle stump for a walk off the third ball after resumption. Last man Ajay Yadav then ran himself out in the next over, shortly after Jharkhand passed the 400 mark.
With the visitors in the hunt of a 400-plus total, a good start was required. Jiwanjot, who came into the game with 785 runs under his belt, and Ravi Inder Singh did just that, with their right and left-hand combination not allowing the Jharkhand new-ball bowlers settle into a rhythm. Once spin was introduced as early as the 11th over, in the form of captain Nadeem, the Punjab duo negotiated him well and kept the scoreboard moving, without indulging in any outrageous drives or over-ambitious flicks or cuts.
The first error they committed cost them. Ravi Inder got a ball from Nadeem that pitched on the rough created by the bowlers' foot marks and nicked it to the slips, where Manish Vardhan took a diving catch.
But Taruwar Kohli, who played the stroke of the day off his first ball - a straight drive that raced to the fence - then curbed his natural instincts in the last session to make matters easier for Jiwanjot. Jiwanjot has built a reputation of converting his starts into big hundreds. If he lives up to it on the penultimate day, then Punjab could well be in a celebratory mood by the end of Wednesday's play.
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo