After having dominated three-quarters of its contest against Andhra, Kerala unraveled dramatically to go down by seven runs in a low-scoring Group ‘B’ Vijay Hazare Trophy clash here at the Air Force Complex grounds in Palam on Wednesday. Chasing 191, Kerala was unruffled until the 42nd over, when the rot began. Captain Sachin Baby – 57 (84b, 6X4) – departed in a vain attempt to smash leg-spinner Karn Sharma out of the park, before his team lost six more wickets for 13 runs to be bowled out for 183.
Besides Sharma, part-time spinner Ricky Bhui caused panic among Kerala’s batting line-up with his wicket-to-wicket bowling. The presence of close-in fielders added to the catatonia. Much of the damage was done by the time B. Ayyappa was re-introduced into the attack; the fast bowler, bowling the 49th over, got Basil Thampi and S. Midhun - the last two batsmen - out bowled. Middle-order Salman Nizar, off the first delivery of the final over, deposited Bhui straight to the deep midwicket fielder’s throat to end the suffering.
“I was just thinking of bowling the toughest ball possible for the batsman in the final over. I knew I had to bowl in the right areas,” an ecstatic Bhui said after the win. “I thought the turning point was the wicket of Baby; we had got a set batsman out. Then we got the field in, took our chances, and it paid off,” he added.
The turnaround looked improbable when Baby and V. A. Jagadeesh were going along smoothly on a pitch that was refusing to take turn in the afternoon. The two added 80 runs in 18.4 overs, a period when Andhra looked insipid as a bowling unit. Giving their primary spinners a rest, Bhui and Hanuma Vihari turned their arms over but the batsmen seemed set and intent on carrying their team through till the end.
The early momentum was also provided by the openers K. B. Arun Karthick (46, 67b, 5X4, 1X6) and Jalaj Saxena (32, 39b, 5X4), who stitched an enterprising partnership of 72. The top-order continued to hold firm for most of the innings as the pitch was benign. Noted Baby, “If you applied yourself on this wicket, you could get runs.”
That didn’t seem to be the case in the morning, however. Fast bowlers Thampi and Sandeep Warrier had reduced Andhra to 16 for two in the fifth over. Andhra’s top-order attempted a revival but then the spinners Akshay Chandran and Midhun took over, casting a spell on the batsmen with their accurate and deceptive bowling. B. Sumanth (79, 104b, 5X4, 2X6) and D. B. Ravi Teja (44, 54b, 3X4, 1X6) put on 96 runs for the fifth wicket to give some respectability to the eventual total, which proved just enough.
In another contest in Group ‘B’, also at the Air Force Complex, Hyderabad defeated Madhya Pradesh by seven wickets. Mohammed Siraj (three wickets), and batsmen Tanmay Agarwal (83, 109b, 5X4) and K. Rohit Rayudu (78, 102b, 6X4, 2X6), were the chief architects of Hyderabad’s comprehensive win.