Mushtaq Ali Trophy: Bishnoi shines as Rajasthan defeat Punjab

Rajesh Bishnoi still remembers the painful super league loss against Punjab that denied his team Rajasthan a place in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy final last year.

Rajasthan's Rajesh Bishnoi on his way to a half century against last year's runner-up Punjab in the Mushtaq Ali Trophy National T20 cricket championship in Kochi on Saturday.   -  Thulasi Kakkat

Rajesh Bishnoi still remembers the painful super league loss against Punjab that denied his team Rajasthan a place in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy final last year.

At 39 for four with almost half the overs done, that defeat appeared to be playing on the Rajasthan players’ minds in this season’s opener against Punjab at the Nehru Stadium here on Saturday. But Rajesh came up with a fine half-century (58b, 4x6, 4x4) and figured in two crucial partnerships — 37 for the fifth wicket with Rajat Bhatia and 53 for the sixth with D.H. Yagnik — as Rajasthan jolted last year’s runner-up Punjab with a four-wicket victory in the Group ‘B’ league.

“We kept things simple even after we lost those four wickets,” said Bishnoi, the Royal Challengers Bangalore star, after the victory.

Yuvraj Singh, the IPL’s most expensive player last season, failed with the bat scoring just two runs — Bishnoi figured in his dismissal catching him at long-on off Rajat Bhatia — but the Indian star almost turned out to be the hero of the match a little later.

The 34-year-old Yuvraj bowled the last over and when he dismissed the high-flying Bishnoi off the third ball for his second wicket, Rajasthan who needed two runs for victory, appeared to be under pressure. But a boundary carried the side to a thrilling win.

Royal Challengers Bangalore stars were in the spotlight as Mandeep Singh was Punjab’s leading run-getter earlier with an unbeaten 76 off 52 balls (3x6, 7x4).

Meanwhile, Kerala overcame the loss of the experienced V.A. Jagadeesh off the first ball and the early run-out of hard-hitting batsman Sanju Samson (4 runs) before defeating Jammu and Kashmir by five wickets at the St. Paul’s College ground. Rohan Prem, with an unbeaten 59, and Raiphi Vincent Gomez with an all-round performance, impressed in the victory.

“Often, when I play under pressure, I tend to do well, so I take it in a positive sense,” said Rohan Prem when asked whether the early exit of Jagadeesh and Sanju Samson piled the pressure on him.

Kerala captain Sachin Baby said his strategy of changing bowlers frequently worked well. “We won the toss and it was crucial. Also, our strategy of rotating and changing the bowlers frequently brought us success. It did not allow our opponents to settle down,” said Sachin Baby. “And Raiphi is a good finisher and after the 14th over, he can change the game.”

>Rajasthan V Punjab (Full scorecard and ball-by-ball details)

>Jammu & Kashmir V Kerala (Full scorecard and ball-by-ball details)

>Saurashtra V Tripura (Full scorecard and ball-by-ball details)