A decisive phase of play between lunch and tea changed the complexion of the Elite Group ‘B’ Ranji Trophy contest between Himachal and Tamil Nadu, consigning the latter to a nine-wicket defeat at the HPCA Stadium here.
As on the first day, Tamil Nadu suffered a collapse, this time losing six wickets for 25 runs. After having taken much pains to restore parity in the contest, the top-order batsmen perhaps departed a touch too early to expose the rest of the batting order against a potent seam attack. The new ball, taken after the 100th over, seemed to have done the trick for Himachal.
Needing 110 to win with two hours left, Himachal’s openers batted in cavalier fashion. Ankush Bains (64 not out, 38ball, 6X4, 4X6) especially took a liking to left-arm spinner R. Sai Kishore, playing slog sweeps for sixes. T. Natarajan was punched through cover, and pulled repeatedly for boundaries. In the 16th over, and with half an hour left, Himachal trotted home.
For the first half of the day, an outright win seemed distant. All eyes were on Abhinav, who had played compelling innings on Day Three and had become his team’s highest run-getter in the Ranji Trophy. But he departed early, for 128. After having added four more boundaries to his overnight tally, he was bowled against the run of play by Arpit Guleria (3 for 56). B. Indrajith (106, 243b, 12X4) and his more enterprising batting partner, Vijay Shankar, then, stitched a smooth partnership of 109 runs.
Indrajith scored a century, but more significantly, consumed one half of Day Four to deflate the opposition. At the start of the day, Himachal’s fast bowlers were encouraged by the fielders enthusiastically, but as time wore on, the team appeared resigned and the body language was languid. All that was to change.
As the seamers started unsettling the Tamil Nadu batsmen with the new ball, Himachal’s fielders were full of energy once again. Vijay Shankar, after an attractive half-century, had been dismissed by then, against the run of play, stumped by the wicketkeeper Ankush Bains off leg-spinner Prashant Chopra. It was a decisive moment, as Indrajith reflected later on. “That one wicket gave them (Himachal’s players) momentum. All we needed was a 40-50 run partnership to see us through,” he told Sportstar .
N. Jagadeesan, batting at No. 6, was caught in the slips off Rishi Dhawan (3 for 60) in the 106th over. It precipitated a collapse, the lower order unable to negotiate the seamers, seemingly rejuvenated by the prospect of an unexpected victory. Shahrukh Khan and M. Mohammed fell – lbw and bowled – to the fast and accurate Arpit Guleria, while No. 10 R. Sai Kishore was caught in the slips, Rishi taking his third wicket.
What added to Tamil Nadu’s woes was the avoidable run-out of Abhishek Tanwar. But the critical scalp was that of the set Indrajith. The right-hander had looked unruffled in his innings for the most part, intent leaving deliveries outside off-stump and seeing his team through till the end. However, he became the eighth wicket to fall, bowled by Rishi.
The team couldn’t recover from there.
At Dharamsala: Tamil Nadu 227 & 345 in 118.3 overs (Abhinav Mukund 128, B. Indrajith 106, Vijay Shankar 56) lost to Himachal Pradesh 463 & 111 for one in 15.3 overs (Ankush Bains 64 n.o.); Points: Himachal Pradesh 6(22), Tamil Nadu 0(12).