Ranji Trophy: Kerala scrapes through to take lead

Jharkhand spinner Sunny Gupta’s six-wicket haul gives the home team the jitters.

Mohammed Azharuddeen scored the only half-century of the match.   -  A. Vinod

Off-spinner Sunny Gupta took six wickets to precipitate a first-innings slide for Kerala, which just about managed to pip its opponent for a lead on the second day of the Group B Ranji Trophy match at the Kariyavattom Sports Hub on Saturday. Kerala was 250 for eight at stumps, possessing a lead of 48.

An intense contest between bat and ball continued for the second day running after Sandeep Warrier had signalled the end of the rival essay in 2.2 overs and an addition of just two runs. Gupta took the battle into the Kerala camp with an inspired spell.

First day report: Saxena puts Kerala on top

Taking a cue from Jalaj Saxena who had tormented the Jharkhand batsmen for a haul of six for 50, the 29-year-old Gupta, also an off-break bowler, did well to plant seeds of doubt on the minds of the Kerala batsmen. He helped raise hopes of a lead. Gupta was richly rewarded too as he kept a steady line and length, finishing the day with a haul of six for 94.

Gupta’s tireless effort was what forced the home team to find itself back to the wall time and again.

Spin trouble

With debutant Rahul making an early exit by stepping out to Gupta and providing the chance to Ishan Kishan for an easy stumping, Kerala had its task cut out. But with Gupta bowling well and Samar Quadri proving his admirable foil with his leg-breaks, it was anything but a cake-walk for the batting side.

And as things panned out, Arun Karthik, Rohan Prem and Sanju V. Samson all fell to the guile of Gupta before Mohammed Azharuddeen, promoted in the order, came to Kerala’s rescue. The home team wicket-keeper seemed hardly bothered by rival bowling as he helped his side get over the ruins with a fine half-century (51 off just 66 deliveries).

After Azharuddeen fell, Saxena held the innings together, teaming up with Akshay Chandran (23) and later with K. Monish (18) to help Kerala take the lead. At the end of the day, Saxena was unconquered on 47 in the company of M. D. Nidheesh (7 not out).