Punjab 26 for 1 trail Maharashtra 210 (Tripathi 56, Bawne 44, Kaul 3-46, Harbhajan 2-37) by 184 runs
Punjab's bowlers executed their plans to perfection, as they snatched the advantage from hosts Maharashtra on the opening day of their Ranji Trophy Group B game. The visitors would have had a perfect day at the Maharashtra Cricket Association stadium in Pune had they not lost opener Uday Kaul towards the end of the day.
With the wicket wearing a tinge of grass, Punjab captain Harbhajan Singh had no hesitation to put Maharashtra in to bat once the coin landed in his favour. And the in-form duo of Sandeep Sharma and Siddarth Kaul bowled in the right areas to justify their captain's decision. While Sandeep consistently pitched the ball up, Kaul was the cleverer of the two, mixing his lengths.
The ploy worked as Chirag Khurana, having hit Sharma for a couple of sweetly timed fours, was found in no man's land off a ball that was pitched just short of good length by Kaul, and wicketkeeper Gitansh Khera collected a regulation catch. For the next four overs, Kaul troubled the other opener Harshad Khadiwale by bowling full and eventually forced the batsman to play one on to the stumps.
At 26 for 2, Maharashtra desperately needed Vijay Zol and Kedar Jadhav to repeat their heroics against Mumbai in last year's quarter-final and bail the team out, and the pair began well enough, as Jadhav got after debutant Maninder Singh, driving him for two boundaries in the medium pacer's first over. Maninder, though, had the last laugh as Jadhav went for another drive in his next over to only nick it to Khera.
Zol, by then, was solid at the other end. He had missed the last match due to a shoulder injury but had proven his fitness with a century in Maharashtra Under-23's game against Baroda. However, his shoulder seemed to be bothering him, which resulted in a lapse of concentration. Sandeep, who bowled a long 11-over spell up front, was rewarded in his 10th over when he induced an edge off Zol's willow.
Soon after, Maharashtra's captain Rohit Motwani flicked Maninder straight to Mandeep Singh at short midwicket to leave the team reeling at 75 for five and the hosts were in danger of being bowled out for a paltry total. However, Ankit Bawne found an ally in rookie Rahul Tripathi, as the pair aided a mini-recovery. While Tripathi played freely, Bawne preferred to be patient. When Harbhajan introduced himself into the attack in the 30th over, Tripathi danced down the wicket and lofted him over mid-on for a boundary just before lunch.
The wicket eased considerably in the second session, which helped Bawne and Tripathi. The right-handed duo ensured that no loose ball was spared. Tripathi was the more agressive of the two as he drove the ball with panache. Four of his nine fours were scored off Harbhajan. But the shot of the day was a perfect cover drive off Kaul in the 46th over.
When Tripathi flicked Maninder to deep square-leg in the 52nd over and ran a brace, his maiden fifty in first-class cricket was applauded by a sizeable Sunday crowd and Sandeep Patil, the chief national selector, who watching the proceedings.
With the seamers starting to tire and the Maharashtra duo scoring freely, Harbhajan threw the ball to Yuvraj Singh, who immediately struck by trapping Tripathi lbw with an arm ball off his fifth delivery, just minutes before tea.
The tide then turned in favour of Punjab again. Once Bawne played his first false stroke and offered Khera his fourth catch of the day, allrounder Shrikant Mundhe was in danger of running out of partners. Soon after Maharashtra crossed the 200-mark, Harbhajan wrapped the tail,dismissing the last two men off successive balls and leaving Punjab in a promising position heading into day two.