Rasool scores ton but Punjab take lead
Punjab 304 and 15 for 2 lead Jammu & Kashmir 277 (Rasool 103, Rishi 65, Sandeep 4-46) by 42 runs
Parvez Rasool, the Jammu & Kashmir captain, lit up day two with a fluent century - his second this season - to leave the quarter-final in the balance after Harbhajan Singh had revived Punjab's innings with an enterprising 92 on the first day at Moti Bagh. Rasool's innings helped J&K to 277 - 27 short of Punjab's total - and their seamers struck twice before the end of play to set up an enticing third day.
Rasool arrived at the crease early in the day as J&K were reduced to 62 for 3 in the 17th over of the innings. Trailing by 242 runs at the stage, it was clear that J&K's chances of a fight back depended heavily on their captain as the Punjab pacers had hustled the top order with pace and bounce. Adil Rishi and Ian Dev Singh added 46 for the third wicket but it was not the most assuring partnership. Ian Dev scored 19 before losing his off stump to a quick delivery from VRV Singh and Bandeep Singh had already been dismissed by Manpreet Gony in the second over of the day.
Rasool's first scoring shot - a boundary through point as he confidently rode VRV's steepling bounce - was a strong statement of intent. With plenty of open spaces available, he rose further, punching Sandeep Sharma to the cover and midwicket boundaries and helping J&K to cross the 100-mark in Harbhajan's first over - the 27th of the innings.
Rishi had ridden through the choppy phase, playing and missing, but surviving. However, the flux that came with Rasool infected him positively too. He brought up his third fifty of the season with a neat flick of Harbhajan, then opened up against Gony, hitting him for three consecutive boundaries. In 19 overs, the two batsmen had added 81 runs, but Yuvraj Singh struck at the stroke of lunch, trapping Rishi with a slider in the last ball of his first over. J&K had progressed by 131 runs in the first session, but Rishi's dismissal handed the advantage back to Punjab.
Two more wickets went down in quick succession; Manzoor Dar edged VRV to first slip and Hardeep Singh was brilliantly caught by Harbhajan off his own bowling. J&K's innings looked like it was following the same pattern as Punjab's. Except, they needed that Harbhajan innings.
Rasool reached his half-century in 70 balls and his busy innings opened up the field. That eased the pressure to score boundaries and in company of Samiuallah Beigh, J&K comfortably moved the innings forward as Harbhajan and Yuvraj struggled to make an impact. By tea, Rasool had moved to 93 and he didn't waste any time to reach the landmark, cracking the first two balls in the third session to the point boundary.
His first error in judgment, though, cost him his wicket. On 103, he chose to stay back to a length delivery and was bowled by Sandeep, but his 86-run seventh-wicket stand ensured J&K within touching distance of Punjab's score. The last three added 23 more runs to further reduce the deficit. Sandeep, the right-arm seamer, picked up four wickets, including that of Rasool, to boost his season tally to 34. He started generating reverse swing as early as the 20th over, but it was only later in the day that he managed to pick up wickets.
"We decided to change the strategy to Rasool and bowled straight at him and that finally worked. But Rasool bhai played a very good innings," Sandeep said. "The pitch seams early but then batting becomes easier, so if you know how to reverse, you can still make an impact."
J&K made an encouraging start with the ball too, picking up the wickets of the in-form Punjab openers Jiwanjot Singh and Manan Vohra before close of play. Sandeep said he was impressed with the ability of the J&K team as they had been an unknown for most of the Punjab players. "We had no idea before the match what their players did, but they have played very well," he said. "A total of 300 should be a good one on this pitch. In the second innings, Bhajji paaji (Harbhajan) will be a factor too."
Devashish Fuloria is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo