Sandhu dashes Punjab's knockout hopes

Mumbai 22 for 0 trail Punjab 226 (Bipul 68, Sandhu 5-66) by 204 runs

Thirty-one years after his namesake took five wickets on first-class debut for Mumbai at the Wankhede Stadium, medium-pacer Balwinder Sandhu repeated the feat and dealt a blow to Punjab's hopes of securing a quarter-final berth. Sandhu struck with his third delivery in first-class cricket and, along with Kshemal Waingankar, ensured Mumbai did not suffer from the absence of the experienced Aavishkar Salvi, who left the field clutching his side in his second over.

Salvi had Sarul Kanwar caught behind off the second ball of the match, and when Sandhu had Ravi Inder Singh defending straight to short leg in the next over, Wasim Jaffer's decision to make use of the morning moisture on a pitch that had patches of grass seemed to be justified. Jaffer's call was put to the test when Salvi pulled up after nine deliveries.

With only the spin of Ramesh Powar and Ankeet Chavan to fall back on, it was down to Sandhu and Waingankar, both of them playing only because Zaheer Khan, Ajit Agarkar and Dhawal Kulkarni were not available. They stuck to their contrasting methods, and at 106 for 7 just after lunch, Punjab were struggling to reach 150. Bipul Sharma, coming in at No. 7, alternated between big shots and dead-bat defence to take Punjab past 200, helped by his fellow lower-order batsmen.

Sandhu and Waingankar bowled 47.5 of the 77.2 overs that Punjab batted. Sandhu, limited in pace and ambling to the wicket, relied on getting the ball to move, mostly into the left-hand batsmen. There were three in Punjab's top four. Waingankar ran in with lots of energy, and though that meant he over-stepped frequently, he hurried the batsmen with bounce and nip.

After Punjab lost their openers with no runs scored, Sandhu settled into a probing line close to off stump and soon trapped Uday Kaul and Amitoze Singh lbw with swinging deliveries. Waingankar had already sent back Karan Goel. When Ramesh Powar, who managed to get some slow turn, had Punjab's top run-scorer this season, Mayank Sidhana, caught at short leg, the viitors had lost six wickets in the first session.

Bipul and Rahul Sharma attacked after lunch, but Waingankar soon had Rahul caught at deep midwicket off a miscued pull. Bipul proved difficult to remove, though, and with the tail resisting, Mumbai started to look a little flat in the second session. Bipul stepped out to loft the spinners for three sixes, and played the pull with conviction as Mumbai tried to bounce him out. With the wicket now easing after the moisture had dried out, Bipul defended length balls off the back foot and chose the right deliveries to go after.

Waingankar gave Mumbai the wicket they needed, bowling Bipul for 68 after Punjab passed 200. Searching for his fifth wicket, Sandhu beat the outside edge on numerous occasions before he finally hit the stumps of No. 11 Baltej Singh in his 27th over.

Punjab did not have the start Mumbai's bowlers had. The hosts' openers, Kaustubh Pawar and Praful Waghela, played out the remaining overs without any trouble, leaving safely outside the off stump. Mumbai's greenhorn bowling attack passed the test today; tomorrow it will be the turn of their inexperienced batsmen.