Ranji Trophy 2023-24: Pondicherry loses seven in 87-run chase against Jammu & Kashmir

Left-arm spinner Abid Mushtaq followed up his five for 64 in the first innings with another five-wicket haul (five for 17) to leave Pondicherry reeling on 35 for seven versus Jammu & Kashmir on day two of the elite Group-D match in the sixth round of the Ranji Trophy at the Cricket Association of Pondicherry (CAP) Siechem ground here on Saturday.

This is Abid’s first-ever ten-wicket match haul in First-Class cricket.

Pondicherry had almost bungled the chase of 87 before the day’s play fortunately ended for it.

“I thought the game was ours until the last session,” said Pondicherry captain Rohit Damodaran after the day’s play.

It seemed the fall of quick wickets caused concern and the batters were caught in two minds as to what was the best option – to attack or to grind.

“After KB (Arun Karthick) got out, I think we were seriously concerned,” said Rohit, giving credit to the Jammu & Kashmir bowlers. “Rather than to say we were concerned and that didn’t work for us, I would say that they bowled well.”

Karthick skied his shot off left-arm spinner Vanshaj Sharma for Shubham Singh Pundir to take a running catch at mid off.

Abid then had Mohit Mittan’s middle stump uprooted, Paras Dogra leg before, and Krishna Pandey’s edged shot caught by Vivrant Sharma at mid-off to complete his fifer and kiss the ground in celebration.

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Earlier, he had opener Karthik Jayasundaram nick to be caught behind and Akash Kargave leg before.

“I think we gave too many runs in the second session,” said Rohit. He was referring to Pondicherry’s inability to go for the kill.

After lunch, Jammu & Kashmir lost five wickets to be bowled out, but also scored 71 runs.

Left-hander Shubham Singh, seemingly having slightly advanced from the crease, missed his whip off his legs to be dismissed leg before by off-spinner Kargave. It was a key moment, since the batter had settled in with an 84-ball 30 (1×4) and had added 36 runs off 91 balls for the sixth-wicket partnership with Sahil Lotra (19, 40b).

Lotra, to his credit, finely swept left-arm spinner Sagar Udeshi to the fine leg boundary for four. He edged his forward defence to be caught by Mittan at gully off Udeshi.

The next bit of frustration for Pondicherry came in the form of a 74-ball eighth-wicket stand. Wicketkeeper-batter Fazil Rashid and left-hander Abid accumulated 35 runs.

Fazil (36, 67b, 3×4), who looked a bit solid as he did in the first innings, again couldn’t convert it into a long innings. He was caught by substitute Vijai Raja at mid-on off left-arm spinner Sidak Singh, after Abid nicked his block off a bouncy delivery to be caught behind to off-spinner Rohit.

Fazil remarkably drove Kargave for two back-to-back fours to the cover boundary.

Umran Nazir was the last wicket to fall, caught by substitute Premraj at silly point off Sidak.

Four wickets fell in the first session.

Opener Qamran Iqbal was caught by Paras Ratnaparkhe at silly point off Udeshi. Left-hander Vivrant Sharma was dimissed leg before as he missed his sweep off Rohit, who also had Abdul Samad caught by Karthikeyan at long on.

Jammu & Kashmir skipper and opener Shubham Khajuria dug in for a 95-ball 25 (2×4), before being dismissed leg before off Rohit. He went on the backfoot, and turned front-on, missing his whip off his legs.

Rohit was unfortunate that a couple of catches weren’t held on to. Shubham Singh was dropped by Sidak at cover, and Lotra was dropped by Premraj at silly point. In the second case, the gully dived to latch on to the rebound and failed.

Also read | Vanshaj Sharma carries on his U-23 form for Jammu & Kashmir with fifer on debut

On Sunday, Jammu & Kashmir needs only three wickets, while Pondicherry needs 52 runs to win.

A lot rides on this result for Pondicherry.

“If we get an outright win this game, we are also in the knockouts scene (contention), and anything can happen. In the history of Pondicherry, I don’t know how many times it can happen,” said Rohit.

That’s why he’s pushed himself to play this match despite not being fully fit. Spin-bowling all-rounder Fabid Ahmed was ruled out for this match with an ankle twist, and so Rohit had to play.

Rohit is unbeaten at the crease with Sidak.

Asked what approach Pondicherry should adopt on Sunday, he said: “I think for the first half-an-hour, we should try to counter-attack. If we get past the 30 minutes of counter-attack, then I think the game is anybody’s.”

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