Maharashtra missed out on an outright win by three wickets but have confirmed their place in the Plate semi-finals after taking three points from their game against Jammu & Kashmir in Ratnagiri. Riding on Ankit Bavne's 166 and Kedar Jadhav's strokeful 87, Maharashtra took a 247-run lead, leaving J&K 57 overs to bat in just under two sessions.
The visitors quickly found themselves under duress after three quick wickets fell between the 18th and 25th overs. Manik Gupta, making his first-class debut, was involved in the run-out of his teammate Ram Dayal, who gave the youngster an earful walking back. But Gupta played with maturity throughout and if not for his unbeaten 37 (off 104 balls) the visitors might have endured a painful loss.
The push for a win was made possible by some quick scoring on the fourth morning. Bawne, along with Jadhav and then Akshya Darekar, who hit five fours in a quickfire 27, were in rush to compile a big enough lead that would give their bowlers the chance bowl out the opposition. In the end, there was not quite enough time, but the three points were enough for Maharashtra to gain the right to play for a spot in the main knockouts.
Former India left-arm spinner Bishan Singh Bedi, who is the J&K coach, said that Maharashtra missed out a win by delaying the declaration. "I felt we just managed to save the game. The home team just didn't know how to win," Bedi told the Times of India. "If only they had declared earlier."
However, Shaun Williams, Bedi's counterpart, disagreed. "We had a good shot at it. It's just that on Day Two, we wasted two sessions. That phase of the game cost us (the victory), actually. The declaration was done at the right time. You might say we could have declared earlier, but you need 200 runs to defend. And we wanted to make sure we don't have to bat again."
A collapse on the final day undid all the hard work Ishank Jaggi had done on the third and Jharkhand conceded first-innings points to Assam in Dhanbad. It was always going to be a tough task, with Jharkhand needing another 202 runs to get past Assam's 502, with six wickets in hand, but the middle and lower order did not even make a battle out of it and Jharkhand were bowled out for 373. The match was over as a contest after that but there was time for Dheeraj Jadhav to score his second hundred of the match and fourth of the season. He leads the run-charts in the Plate League with 561 runs at a staggering average of 140.25
Eighteen-year-old left-arm spinner Deepak Gohain, on first-class debut, took three of the six Jharkhand wickets to fall on the fourth day, starting the slide with his dismissal of overnight batsman Deepak Chougule. Fast bowler Abu Nechim completed his five-wicket haul before medium-pacer Arup Das dismissed Jaggi for 188, and the innings did not last long after that. Despite collecting three points, Assam are not in contention for a place in the Plate semi-finals.
Group ASony Cheruvathur was Kerala's hero as he struck with his fourth ball of the morning to seal the nail-biter against Andhra in Kochi in the home side's favour. Andhra needed three runs to win on the final day, Kerala needed one wicket, and Cheruvathur had Garikina Prasad caught behind before Andhra could score a run in the morning. Prasad's 21 off 88 balls and his 26-run last-wicket partnership with D Vijaykumar was what had given Andhra a chance to win but Kerala denied them and went to second spot in Group A. Their final group game will now be a straight shootout for a semi-final spot against Himachal Pradesh.
Cheruvathur said the overnight break had been vital. "Last night, they were in rhythm and were getting runs very easily," he told ESPNcricinfo. "We were reminded of how our last pair had batted against Services [in Kochi] and got very tense. But the break gave us a chance, and I knew last night that I would be bowling the first over today. The first ball was really tense, since we had only two runs to play with. I had him beaten outside off stump with the third ball, which was an outswinger. So I thought, let me try an inswinger next. It wasn't planned, he got a very faint edge and luckily it went to the keeper."
Kerala coach Biju George explained that the captain VA Jagadeesh had stretched the game to a fourth day by telling the umpires that a fast bowler would bowl in fading light on the third day. "The captain did a very smart thing on the third day in ensuring the game was pushed to the fourth morning by saying that a fast bowler was going to bowl," he said. "Obviously the batsmen were under more pressure through the night. The dressing-rooms of both teams are close to each other. In the morning, we showed them a couple of our spinners warming up, though the plan was to bowl our two designated fast bowlers. We kept all the fielders except third man and fine leg in the circle, and used a lot of catchers. I was expecting the wicket to come through a run-out. The wicket fell in the very first over, when he played a flick and was caught down the leg side by the keeper."
A maiden first-class double-century by Vinayak Samant helped Tripura earn their first point of the season by denying Vidarbha an outright win in Agartla. The 39-year-old Samant had only scored one century in his previous 99 first-class matches but got 200 not out off 248 balls to take Tripura from their overnight score of 99 for 4 to 433 for 8 declared. Manisankar Murasingh and Timir Chanda offered Samant support and then No. 10 Tushar Saha scored 56 and joined Samant in an unbeaten 123-run partnership.
Vidarbha had made a stirring comeback thanks to Sairaj Bahutule's century on the third day and had not only taken the first-innings points but also left Tripura in danger of a slumping to a fourth loss of the season. Vidarbha did not manage the outright win but are still top of Group A and now just have to make sure they do not lose outright to Andhra in their last game to book a semi-final berth.
An unbeaten double-hundred from Pratik Desai, his first in first-class cricket, helped Services earn an improbable draw against Himachal Pradesh in Dharamsala. Services were already five down in their second innings at the start of the day, and still 28 runs behind, but Desai batted through the day, in which Services lost just two wickets to finish 394 for 7. Sarabjit Singh and Irfan Khan made important contributions to support Desai, who, at 21, was playing just his eighth first-class game.
Himachal took three points out of the game and now have to take at least three points from their final game, against Kerala, to earn a semi-final spot.
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