Prasanth, Manoharan complete Kerala win
Kerala 214 (Manoharan 71, Bhatia 5-63) and 155 (Baby 43, Bipul 4-32) beat Himachal Pradesh 174 (Bipul 53, Padmanabhan 7-54) and 134 (Manoharan 5-43) by 61 runs
Rishi Dhawan lasted just four balls in the morning and with his dismissal, any hopes Himachal Pradesh had for getting a positive result came to an end. Kerala's spin twins, Vinoop Manoharan and Padmanabhan Prasanth, wrapped up the tail to help Kerala secure an important victory and stay in contention to qualify for the knockouts.
Dhawan had remained resolute during an eventful final session on the second day, after Himachal had thrown away a solid start from their openers. From 48 for no loss, Himachal's batsmen were defeated by a fast-wearing surface, good spin bowling, and some terrible shot selection. In 11 minutes, the visitors had slid to 60 for 6.
But Dhawan, in the company of Sangram Singh, who had been pushed to the lower order after opening in the first innings, reinvigorated hopes that had virtually vanished after the middle-order collapse. Even then, the challenge of chasing 196 on a turning pitch with a lot of bounce was too big and Sangram got out towards end of the day. The onus was on Dhawan but Prasanth Padmanabhan, the left-arm spinner who had bagged a career-best 7 for 55 to help Kerala gain a vital 40-run lead, accounted for the Himachal captain for the second time in the match. Dhawan had attempted a slog sweep against the turn in the first innings and was trapped plumb. Today, Padmanabhan changed his strategy a little bit.
Former India wicketkeeper Chandrakant Pandit, who was recently appointed director of the cricket academy at the Kerala Cricket Association, had pointed out to Padmanabhan that one of the reasons he had failed to beat Dhawan was because he had been bowling a flatter trajectory on the second day. Keeping that in mind, Padmanabhan practiced bowling slow in the nets to give the ball more flight. His efforts paid off, as Dhawan lunged forward to defend a ball that dipped and turned away after pitching. The bounce helped take an edge and AV Jagadeesh gladly accepted the catch at slips.
Himachal's resistance ended quickly after that as Padmanabhan trapped Vishal Bhatia lbw to end with match figures of 9 for 106.
Despite the loss, Himachal should be confident about qualifying for the knockouts because they are on the top of Group C with 23 points after six matches. Kerala have a home game against Maharashtra starting on December 14, followed by two away encounters. With six points from today's win, Kerala are joint second along with J&K, but they need at least one more outright victory to seal their qualification.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo