Mushtaq Ali Trophy: Sanju shines as Kerala shock Punjab

Sanju Samson's two stands — 61 runs for the opening wicket with the promising Mohammed Azharuddeen and 48 for the fourth with the seasoned V. A. Jagadeesh – played a crucial part in the host’s victory which helped it stay at the top of the seven-team table with five wins from as many matches.

Sanju Samson's smashed a sparkling 72 off 56 balls, hitting three sixes and six fours.   -  Thulasi Kakkat

For a youngster who is known for his slam-bang batting, this season has been a bit of a disappointment for Sanju Samson. However, the 21-year-old came good when it mattered the most as Kerala shocked last year’s runner-up Punjab by five wickets and qualified for the Mushtaq Ali Trophy super league phase at the St. Paul’s College ground on Saturday evening.

Samson’s sparkling 72 (56 balls, 3x6, 6x4) and his two stands – 61 runs for the opening wicket with the promising Mohammed Azharuddeen and 48 for the fourth with the seasoned V. A. Jagadeesh – played a crucial part in the host’s victory which helped it stay at the top of the seven-team table with five wins from as many matches.

Left-arm spinner P. Prasanth, who took his third three-wicket haul of the championship, picked up the wickets of Pargat Singh and Harbhajan Singh, playing a huge role in the side’s victory. Young medium-pacer, Basil Thampi, also bowled sensibly in the end and collected the wicket of Yuvraj Singh in the last over to celebrate.

The match had a tense finish with many nail-biting moments. Even though the host needed just three runs in the last over, two wickets of Samson and Raiphy Vincent Gomez fell off on consecutive deliveries.

With famous names like Yuvraj and Harbhajan Singh playing, who have been in included in the Indian team for the upcoming three-match T20 series against Australia, there was a good turnout too.

Yuvraj, who made just two the last time he batted here last week, scored an exciting half century (54 off 44 balls, 1x6, 7x4) but he did not get much support from his teammates, or rather the host’s brilliant fielding did not allow them.

“Our target was to restrict Punjab to below 140 and when this happened, we knew we had a good chance,” said P. Balachandran, the Kerala coach.

Interestingly, it was the young opener Azharuddeen who belted the host’s first six, carting medium-pacer Baltej Singh over long-on though Samson was at the other end. Samson took the stage after that.

“This is one of the best innings I’ve played for Kerala especially since it came at a very crucial phase in the match,” said Samson after the victory.

Meanwhile, Indian star Cheteshwar Pujara’s unbeaten 54 went in vain as Jharkhand brushed aside Saurashtra by seven wickets in the other match. Jharkhand is in the second spot in the standings with 16 points while Saurashtra and Punjab are below it with 12 each. There should be a strong fight for the second spot tomorrow.

BRIEF SCORES

Punjab 135 for seven in 20 overs (Yuvraj Singh 54, Pargat Singh 35, P. Prasanth three for 11, Basil Thampi two for 30) lost to Kerala 139 for five in 19.5 overs (Mohammed Azharuddeen 25, Sanju Samson 72, Siddharth Kaul two for 24, Harbhajan Singh two for 19).

Saurashtra 128 for five in 20 overs (Cheteshwar Pujara 54 n.o., Chirag Jani 27, Sonu Kumar Singh two for 23) lost to Jharkhand 132 for three in 19.3 overs (Virat Singh 41, Shasheem 27, Sumit Kumar 26, Saurabh Tiwary 20 n.o., Shaurya Sanandia two for 22).

Team Rajasthan 112 for nine in 20 overs (Rajat Bhatia 34, M.B. Mura Singh two for 32, Rana Datta two for 15, V.K. Saha two for 8, B.B. Roy two for 16) lost to Tripura 113 for nine in 20 overs (R.A. Dey 43, Nathu Singh four for 25, C.K. Singh two for 21).