Jackson ton piles pressure on Punjab
Punjab 41 for 0 trail Saurashtra 477 (Sheldon Jackson 107, S Ladda 3-109, S Kaul 3-119) by 436 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
If the first day of Saurashtra's Ranji Trophy semi-final at the Khandheri stadium was good for the home team, the second turned out to be better. A century from Sheldon Jackson and handy contributions by the lower order helped Saurashtra post a challenging first innings total of 477, and put Punjab under pressure with three days remaining.
When Jackson and Kamlesh Makvana walked out to the crease on a chilly morning, with the score at 274 for five, Saurashtra needed the last recognised pair of batsmen to bat on as long as they could. Jackson, who was batting on 70, converted his fifty to a hundred.
On the opening day, Jackson, who is playing his first full season, had displayed patience in abundance. On the second day, he showed his ability to switch gears with ease. Once he survived a close leg-before shout in the second over of the day, he decided to go for his shots. The first loose ball he was offered was in the fourth over, bowled by Siddarth Kaul, who was easily the best of the Punjab bowlers for the second day in succession. The half volley was dispatched through covers for a boundary.
It prompted Punjab captain Harbhajan Singh, who opened the proceedings on the day with his offspin, to opt for the new ball. It didn't help much, as Jackson drove Kaul through point.
Forty-five minutes into the day's play, he rocked on to the backfoot to hit Sandeep Sharma through point for his fifth boundary that fetched him a deserving century. Jackson was applauded by his team-mates and a bunch of school kids, who had their first real experience of watching first-class cricket from close quarters. Even before the applause had died down, Jackson, having scored his third century of the season and second in back-to-back matches, thudded the next ball past the bowler for another boundary.
He was ably supported by Makvana, the under-rated allrounder, also grew in confidence at the other end, flicking Kaul through square leg for a delightful boundary.
Kaul, eventually, had the last laugh. At the stroke of the day's first drinks break, he got one to nip back and slip past Jackson's defence, crashing into off and middle stump. It ended Jackson's four-hour stay at the wicket. Despite the sixth-wicket stand of 106 runs between Jackson and Makvana, Saurashtra were far from challenging Punjab's batting. However, Makvana and Vishal Joshi - primarily an off-break bowler - frustrated the Punjab bowlers with sensible batting.
The Saurashtra duo were helped by Harbhajan's tactics as he chose to bowl himself and legspinner Sarabjit Ladda in long spells instead of short bursts. The tired bowlers offered many scoring opportunities to the batsmen, who duly capitalised. Bipul Sharma, who was brought in as an additional spinner, was hardly utilised for the second successive day. The left-arm spinner, who gave his side the vital breakthrough of Jaydev Shah in his first over on the opening day, was given just two of the 68 overs Punjab bowled in the day.
Makvana was unfortunate to be given out on the verge of his second century of the season. He misread a good length ball from Ladda but instead of connecting with the ball, the bat hit the pad as the ball lobbed off wicketkeeper Uday Kaul's gloves into the slip cordon. Umpire Rob Bailey gave the decision in the bowler's favour, denying Makvana of a deserving ton.
Joshi, though, continued his march and raised his maiden fifty before he ran out of partners. By the time Harbhajan ended the innings, forcing a nick off Siddharth Trivedi for his second wicket, Saurashtra had already reached a strong total. The Punjab batsmen will have to chase a 400-plus target for the second time in as many weeks.
The Punjab dressing room had a reason to be optimistic about their chances of making it to the final. The opening combo of Jiwanjot Singh and Ravi Inder Singh played the Saurashtra bowlers with ease before bad light forced them to end the day's play 15 minutes into the extended period of play.
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo