Kaul's century keeps Punjab alive
Punjab 202 & 363 for 8 (Kaul 117*, Kakkar 58, Sohal 51, Verma 2-30) lead Mumbai 436 for 9 dec by 129 runs
Uday Kaul's vigilant century helped Punjab bounce back and frustrated Mumbai, who probably expected a favourable result at the start of the penultimate day at the Brabourne Stadium. When bad light stopped play four overs before stumps, Kaul was unbeaten on a chanceless 117. His 107-run partnership for the fifth wicket with Ankur Kakkar had helped the visitors take a 129-run lead.
Grey and overcast conditions prevailed throughout Saturday, but Mumbai's fast bowlers, particularly the pair of Usman Malvi and Rahil Shaikh, failed to make an impact in the vital first hour, either pitching too full or short or wide. Punjab's opening pair of Sunny Sohal and Karan Goel took advantage of their waywardness.
An hour into the first session Wasim Jaffer decided to replace the struggling pair with the spin-pace combination of Ramesh Powar and Rajesh Verma and it proved to be a successful move. Familiar with the conditions, Verma, who plays for CCI at the same ground in the local cricket league, got enough movement in the air as he trapped Goel plumb with one that ducked in. A jaffa then beat the helpless Sohal. The ball moved away after pitching and clipped the off bail.
Powar had played his hand in building the pressure by keeping the batsmen busy, and in doubt, at the other end. He drew the batsmen out with the flight and loop, something Punjab's spinners failed to do. It was a matter of time before he would trap the prey: Ravi Inder Singh's attractive short innings came to an end when he edged back to the wicketkeeper while trying to cut against Powar's spin.
Punjab were left in disarray when Pankaj Dharmani, their captain, played an irresponsible shot and was caught at midwicket by Abhishek Nayar - Dharmani went for a big hit, stepping out to Powar. It was once again left to Kaul and Kakkar, whose 95-run partnership had saved the visitors from falling apart on the first day, to avoid a collapse. The duo played their parts convincingly, in contrasting styles: if Kaul played on the bowler's patience by holding back his intentions till the last moment, Kakkar was more enterprising with his power-hitting.
Using his aggression smartly, the well-built Kakkar deceived the opposition bowlers, who might have thought he was taking too many chances. But Kakkar had understood that if Punjab needed to survive, someone had to pump the drives. He was lucky to get away on 33 when his attempted big hit off Powar went high towards deep mid-on, where Shaikh, easily the worst of the Mumbai fielders, failed to position himself under the ball, let alone catching it. A determined Kakkar charged Powar the next ball to hit a six over wide long-on. A swatted six over point off Ankit Chavan, the left-arm spinner, got him his second fifty of the match.
At the other end, Kaul advanced against Chavan to drive through the narrow space between mid-on and midwicket for a four to get to his half-century. Mumbai's patience started to waver, with Punjab virtually dominating the second session. Just then, the visitors suffered a major setback when Kakkar feathered an edge while trying to cut Malvi too close to his body off the first ball of the final over before tea.
However, Chandan Madan made sure the momentum was not lost post tea and supported Kaul well with his little cameo (32) that involved some smashing drives. Kaul moved into the 90s with a cut off Powar, a reverse-sweep in the offspinner's next over took him to 99, and he duly achieved his century with a single to midwicket. It was his second successive ton this season: his hundred in the previous game against Hyderabad had helped Punjab turn the tables and snatch a win on the final day.
Punjab will now rely on Kaul to stretch their lead further and hope for an encore. A victory on Sunday will not get them to the quarter-finals but will surely boost their pride. For Mumbai, who have already qualified for the quarter-finals, the job is not done yet.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo