Medium-pacer Arup Das (six for 82) scythed through the Punjab line-up here on Friday to take Assam within touching distance of its maiden entry into the semi-finals of the Ranji Trophy.
At stumps, on the third day of the quarter-final encounter at the Sardar Vallabhai Patel Stadium, Punjab were 224 for eight in pursuit of 288. Gitansh Khera (35 batting, 99, 3x4) and Barinder Singh Sran (8 batting, 9b, 1x6) were at the crease. The Harbhajan Singh-led side, which batted with flair but not enough application, is 64 runs away from an unlikely win.
Assam, which began the day at 23 for four in second innings, was bowled out for 101 thanks to an inspired performance from Barinder Singh Sran (five for 43) and Siddarth Kaul (four for 25), who finished with eight wickets in the match.
Later, bowling with purpose with the afternoon sea breeze helping his cause, Arup Das produced an amazing spell to remove Jiwanjot Singh and Uday Kaul off consecutive deliveries. He followed it up with the scalp of Pargat Singh to reduce Punjab to 25 for three in the 10th over.
Punjab fought its way back into the contest with a 70-run stand between Mandeep Singh (29, 52b, 4x4) and Gurkeerat Singh Mann (64, 55, 12x4), but both batsmen committed harakiri by gifting their wickets to Dhiraj Goswami (two for 38).
At 133 for five, Punjab needed another partnership of substance. Mayank Sidhana, who was stranded on 80 in the first essay, joined hands with Khera for nearly 20 overs. However, Arup Das returned to break the 55-run stand in emphatic fashion by getting Sidhana to play a cavalier cut, the edge of which landed in the slips. Harbhajan, too, was guilty of throwing his wicket away, at the fag end of the day, and that too, after living a charmed life.
The day was marred by some poor umpiring. The incompetence of the match officials also resulted in both sets of players losing their cool on more than one occasion.
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