It was a see-saw battle between two excellent teams, slow and dull for long periods but one that went down to the wire. A rearguard effort with the bat from Aksh Deep Nath and Rinku Singh, and a disciplined bowling effort from Yash Dayal helped Uttar Pradesh enter the quarterfinals of the Vijay Hazare Trophy with a five-wicket win over Madhya Pradesh at the Jaipuria Vidhyalaya Ground here.

UP will play Himachal Pradesh on Tuesday in the first of the four quarterfinals.

Having reduced UP to 43 for 3 in the 14 over, MP held the upper hand for much of the second half of the contest. Seamer Avesh Khan led the way with two early wickets as opener Aryan Juyal and No. 3 Karan Sharma edged to the slips. After a period of consolidation, the enterprising Madhav Kaushik was caught behind for 29.

Aksh Deep Nath then laid anchor, stitching useful partnerships with Sameer Rizvi (38, 71b, 3x4) and Rinku Singh (58 n.o., 64b, 5x4). The required run-rate kept climbing, though, and it hovered around 8 per over for a brief period. But UP had the last laugh as Aksh Deep and Rinku accelerated well, Rinku hitting the winning runs in the last over of left-arm spinner Kumar Kartikeya Singh with a sweep to fine leg for four.

Aksh Deep’s fighting knock was the highlight of UP’s chase of 235. He came in to bat in the 14th over, and didn’t do much except push the ball around for singles and twos until he reached his fifty with a pull shot for four off seamer Kuldeep Sen, with about an hour left for the match to end. He started to run harder between the wickets, and decided to tee off in the 43rd over, expertly lofting a full delivery from Avesh straight behind the bowler’s head for six. 

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Another boundary in the next over left UP needing 43 off 39 deliveries. And this is when he started to take a few risks. He stepped down the track to Kumar Kartikeya and nearly got himself bowled as the ball took the inside edge of the bat and narrowly evaded the stumps. In the same over, he played a cover drive and was caught acrobatically by the fielder at extra cover.

Rinku then took up the responsibility of getting the bulk of the runs, and Bhuvneshwar, the next man in, gave him good support. Bhuvneshwar even played the lap sweep for four off Kumar Kartikeya to take his team closer.

The penultimate over, bowled by Avesh, virtually sealed the contest. Bhuvneshwar collected a four through fine leg, before a full toss went through the legs of the wicketkeeper to the boundary. UP still needed three more runs, but Rinku celebrated by spreading his arms in delight.

Pick of the bowlers

Left-arm seamer Dayal (3 for 35) was the pick of UP’s bowlers as Madhya Pradesh was restricted for 234 on a green surface. Dayal bowled a consistent line and length in all his spells and even tossed in the odd short ball and the slower ball. Among his three crucial wickets was that of the menacing Venkatesh Iyer.

Dayal and Bhuvneshwar were expectedly frugal and potent in the first hour of the contest. Bhuvneshwar, who was playing his first game of the tournament, dismissed opener Abhishek Bhandari bowled in the first over itself. Although runs were hard to come by, Rameez Khan (35, 68b, 4x4), Rajat Patidar (46, 49b, 3x4, 1x6) and the in-form Shubham Sharma (83, 99, 10x4) grafted hard to lay a solid foundation. The rest of the batters couldn’t back their efforts, however, and by the 44th over, MP was struggling at 207 for 6. 

Rameez, Shubham and Patidar all got out when they were looking good for many more. A direct hit from the deep ended Rameez’s stay at the crease in the 20th over, while Shubham got out to left-arm spinner Shivam Sharma in the 34th; he tried to play the sweep to a full delivery but the ball snuck through and hit timber. Patidar was caught in the deep in the 41st, trying to smash a six to long leg to provide some impetus in the business end.

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Shubham hit a number of awe-inspiring strokes during his elegant innings, especially during a brief phase of play when Bhuvneshwar came back into the attack after his spell in the morning. In the 30th over, Shubham slapped a short delivery from Bhuvneshwar to deep midwicket for four, before lofting one imperiously to deep extra cover for another four. In the next over, he pulled again for four, this time off Dayal’s bowling. And he pulled out his ramp stroke, too, to collect another boundary off Bhuvneshwar, in the next over.

Patidar took the initiative to hit some boundaries during his partnership with Venkatesh Iyer, who played a rather subdued innings as per his standards. Perhaps the best stroke of Patidar’s innings was the flick off the legs for six to long leg off Shivam Mavi, in the 39th over. Soon after, Iyer also hit a six, off the same bowler. But neither batter stuck on for long.

Wickets fell in a heap towards the end, Puneet Date providing the only bit of resistance, smashing two sixes off Mavi in the 48th over. The first was off a full toss, and the second, off a short delivery. The ball was smashed to the long-off region both times. It was too little, too late.