VRV Singh bowls Punjab into semis
Punjab 304 (Harbhajan 92, Sandeep 51, Nazir 4-66) and 296 (Mandeep 101, Gurkeerat 66, Rasool 5-58) beat Jammu & Kashmir 277 (Rasool 103, Reshi 65, Sandeep 4-46) and 223 (Hardeep 76*, VRV Singh 5-43) by 100 runs
A menacing spell by VRV Singh on the fourth morning that helped Punjab rip through the Jammu & Kashmir middle order ended up being the final word in a closely contested quarter-final in Baroda. The 100-run win ensured a home semi-final for Punjab against Karnataka; it also marked the end of J&K's closely followed campaign.
On the coldest of the four days, J&K ended the crucial first hour with just the one wicket lost but they had no answers to VRV's pace in the second hour, when they lost four big wickets in quick succession. VRV's morning spell read 9-2-17-4 and it gave him his second five-wicket haul of the season.
J&K attempted to counter the seamer-friendly morning conditions by sending in lower-order batsman Ram Dayal at the fall of Ian Dev Singh in the second over of the day, ahead of the recognised batsmen. And the ploy worked perfectly as Dayal held fort for 97 minutes before being bowled by Sandeep Sharma. J&K needed 196 at that stage and with plenty of batting to come, more fight from the smaller team was not out of the question.
VRV, though, nipped their hopes in the bud. Rasool and Obaid Haroon were trapped lbw off consecutive deliveries - both catching the batsmen in the crease - effectively ending J&K's dream of causing an upset. Manzoor Dar fell to the age-old trap of a fuller one following the short ball. He was late to bring his bat down on a searing yorker and was hit on the boot. Samiullah Beigh then edged to third slip and the game was as good as over.
The turning point, though, was VRV's first couple of overs to Hardeep Singh. The batsman had braved the morning session with a firm resolve and had managed to keep the runs flowing. He took a blow on the body off the bowling of MS Gony once, but it was VRV's lift that left him bruised. Twice in two overs, he was hit on his right hand, the second one forcing him to walk off. J&K were 113 for 3 then and Hardeep was on 43, but his departure exposed the incoming batsmen.
Hardeep came back to bat at the fall of the seventh wicket, but by then the damage had been done. With the sun warming the air in the second session, the last two wickets added 74 before J&K eventually folded for 223. Hardeep remained unbeaten on 76.
"We needed some partnerships today, but VRV Singh bowled well today and unfortunately, we couldn't put up a stand," Rasool said. "Once our set batsmen, Hardeep Singh, got injured, we didn't play well against VRV. One batsmen should have stood with paaji. Three hundred plus targets are not easy to chase, but we fought well. "
Harbhajan Singh, who took two wickets in the match, praised VRV and said it was a hard-fought win, and the team is now looking forward to the home semi-final against Karnataka. "VRV is a match-winner for us," he said. "The way he bowled against Haryana and here, he proved how useful he is for Punjab. I hope to see him get back in the India team one day.
"We know our conditions better than Karnataka, but they are a strong team and have been the team to beat. Still, we will need to play our best cricket against them. We will try not to repeat the mistakes we made against them in the league stage and will have our plans ready."
Devashish Fuloria is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo