J&K set 324 for win after Mandeep 101
Jammu & Kashmir 277 and 77 for 2 (Rishi 34) need 247 runs to beat Punjab 304 and 296 (Mandeep 101, Gurkeerat 66, Rasool 5-58)
So far, each day of the quarter-final between Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir has followed a set template: Top-order batsmen falter against the seamers in the morning before someone from the middle scores heavily towards the end of the day. Harbhajan Singh and Umar Nazir were the standout performers on the first day, while Parvez Rasool and Sandeep Sharma rose to the occasion on the second.
On the third day, Mandeep Singh's second century of the season helped Punjab set a daunting 324-run target, despite a poor start in the morning. J&K, though, responded with ferocity, as Adil Rishi struck six fours - a few of them over the infield - to take the team past 50. But his aggression ultimately consumed him as he edged VRV Singh behind. The other batsmen however remained unfazed, as they followed the same approach to help J&K to 77 for 2 at the close of play.
The way J&K have fought over the last three days, Punjab know they cannot be complacent. If J&K can tread through the morning session with minimum damage, another engrossing day is in the offing on Saturday.
Punjab felt the heat on a chilly third morning. They were already two down overnight, and lost three more wickets within the first hour. They could have lost more as the J&K seamers moved the ball around like it was on strings.
Yuvraj Singh was lucky to survive that first hour when an edge off Nazir didn't carry to first slip. He even got a couple of streaky boundaries through gully. Mandeep, on the other hand, came out and batted on a different plane. Just like Rasool's innings on the second day had helped others, Mandeep's confidence rubbed on to Yuvraj.
Mandeep started off with a couple of gorgeous drives through cover before slapping a short ball authoritatively through midwicket. Suddenly, Punjab's innings which appeared to be stuck in a mire in the first hour, found its wheels as the two batsmen helped the team recover from 50 for 5 to post 112 by the 35th over.
Yuvraj had slowly moved to the 30s and as Rasool came into bowl, he showed some of his old class by chipping the spinner for an effortless six over long on. Two balls later, he tried to repeat the shot, but could only connect with the toe-end of the bat to give an an easy catch for Samiullah Beigh at mid-on. At that stage, Punjab were still a long way from safety.
The match was J&K's to control and the team needed quick wickets. However, just like the previous two days, the batsmen took advantage of the easing conditions as Gurkeerat Singh set about building his innings at a scorching pace. He started with a flurry of fours-a couple of straight drives, a powerful sweep and a couple of cover drives- which helped him overtake Mandeep soon after lunch. Gurkeerat then reached his half-century off just 43 balls and Mandeep followed suit soon after, as Punjab cruised past 200.
But just like Yuvraj, Gurkeerat was out to Rasool immediately after hitting him for a six. Rasool then trapped Harbhajan lbw as Punjab slumped to 225 for 8. J&K had an opening, but Punjab stung back again through another crucial stand. MS Gony, wearing his Kings XI helmet, batted in T20 mode, swatting a huge six over midwicket against Mohammad Mudasir. By the time he was dismissed, he had added 63 for the ninth wicket with Mandeep.
Mandeep, with only VRV Singh for company, made room against Mudasir and creamed the length ball to extra cover to register his seventh first-class century. He finally played on to his own stumps against Rasool, giving the bowler his sixth five-wicket haul in first-class cricket, and setting the scene for an intriguing fourth day.
Devashish Fuloria is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo