Chawla, Nath help UP hold on for draw
Punjab 272 (Sidhana 85, Khera 74, Praveen 4-81) and 295 for 7 dec (Kaul 109*, Mandeep 84, Rajpoot 3-67) drew with Uttar Pradesh 226 (Umang 49, Kaul 4-82) and 204 for 6 (Nath 76*, Chawla 58)
Half-centuries from Akshdeep Nath and Piyush Chawla saved Uttar Pradesh on the last day, as the team held on for a thrilling draw against Punjab in Kanpur. UP were staring at defeat at the score of 10 for 3, and then 96 for 5, in their chase of 342, but managed to stay firm to rescue a point. Punjab dominated most parts of the day by giving UP 84 overs to bat, and dismissed Suresh Raina for another low score, but could not build on it to snare the six points that would have strengthened their case for booking a knockout berth.
Punjab, now remain third in Group B with 20 points, while UP are right behind them with 18, the same as Tamil Nadu. Punjab and UP are still in the fray to make it to the last stage, but UP will need a lot of results going in their favour, besides just registering a win of their own in the last round.
UP's star and match saviour on the last day was Nath, who scored his maiden fifty playing his fifth first-class match, by showing maturity and composure one would normally not associate with a 22-year-old. Nath came out only in the third over and had to step up under pressure to chase a formidable target for a team in desperate need of six points. The hosts had to abandon their chase and Nath made sure he stood in Punjab's way too, of marching to victory.
UP, who had expressed openly their intent to chase down 300-350, were thrown off track by Punjab's openers Brainder Sran and Deepak Bansal, both left-handed pacers. Bansal struck on his first ball with a beautiful outswinger to draw Himanshu Asnora's outside edge, and Brainder rattled the hosts further with twin strikes within four balls. He first extracted good bounce with a short-of-length delivery to take Almas Shaukat's edge, and despite being dispatched for four by Raina two balls later, Brainder had him caught with some movement outside off as Yuvraj Singh grabbed an excellent low catch with both hands with a dive to his right. Three down, UP still had 81 overs to survive in the day.
Nath's first crucial stand came with Umang Sharma, and the duo saved UP from being dismissed for a paltry score for the second time in the match. They played the waiting game by leaving plenty outside off without worrying about runs. Umang was also helped by being dropped on 0 at gully off Bansal, and he took off by taking two fours off Siddarth Kaul's first over. Umang took 18 balls to get off the mark and Nath took 15, before Harbhajan brought himself on.
Harbhajan struck either sides of lunch. He first trapped Umang lbw from round the wicket and then deceived Eklavya Dwivedi with a straighter one as the batsman played for the turn, but missed. Dwivedi had been slightly aggressive to put the pressure back on Punjab, but his innings of 27 did not last more than 45 balls after the stand of 47 with Nath.
Nath's determination did not waver, though, and an in-form Chawla gave him ample support for more than two hours to steer UP to safety. Nath's stubbornness and Chawla's ability to pick runs started tilting the match towards a draw as the ball barely moved around and conditions became better for batting. Chawla lofted Harbhajan for a six over long-on and when Yuvraj bowled just before tea, Chawla crunched him for two fours through the covers.
Chawla and Nath scored more freely in the last session before surviving several chances. Siddarth's reverse swing tested them, while Harbhajan bowled with several close-in fielders as edges flew by. Punjab dropped their biggest chance when Chawla was on 39 and Siddarth produced his outside edge but Manan Vohra put down a simple chance at second slip. The crowd's heart was in their mouth again when Chawla got another outside edge, in the next over off Sran, but the ball fell short of first slip.
That did not flicker Chawla's approach at all, as he continued to hook the pacers and loft Harbhajan. He was mostly favoured by luck as the ball fell in no man's land or went just wide of the slips. Both batsmen reached their fifties in quick succession and Punjab got a sniff of victory when Chawla's edge was finally taken by the wicketkeeper. However, amidst more edges and lbw appeals, Saurabh Kumar survived the last half hour of the day to ensure Nath's innings of more than five hours did not go in vain.
Earlier, Punjab had completely bossed around the start of the day by smashing 51 runs in the first seven overs, before declaring on 295 for 7. Once Harbhajan was bowled for 0, Uday Kaul brought up his 16th first-class hundred with a flick to the leg side, and Brainder hammered Praveen Kumar for 18 runs in an over, involving three fours and a six. Uday was unbeaten on 109 and Brainder on 26 off 20.
Vishal Dikshit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo