Ranji Trophy 2018-19: Warrier’s five-for restricts Punjab

Azharuddeen’s delightful knock highlights Kerala’s fightback in a Ranji Trophy fixture against Punjab.

Sandeep Warrier celebrates the fall of a Punjab wicket in Mohali on Monday.   -  Akhilesh Kumar

First, Sandeep Warrier swung the ball viciously to trigger a batting collapse. Then, Mohammed Azharuddeen swung his bat, without being reckless.

Together, the two pulled Kerala right back into the Ranji Trophy Elite Group B match at the PCA Stadium on a chilly Monday. And that was no mean task, for Punjab had reached a commanding position on the opening day itself.

The host still had its nose in front at stumps on day two, with Kerala on 127 for three in its second innings — a lead of 31.

Earlier, Punjab resumed its first innings at a rather comfortable 135 for two. But, these days when Warrier has the ball in his hands, especially when conditions favour swing bowling, a wicket is not far away.

Swinging the ball either way, even while keeping the line and length steady, he picked up his second five-wicket haul of the season.

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Incisive first burst

His first spell — 9-3-14-3 — ended Punjab’s dream of an innings victory at least. He began by making overnight opener Jiwanjot Singh (69, 129b, 11x4) edge to wicket-keeper Azharuddeen in his second over. That brought an end to his 107-run second-wicket stand with skipper Mandeep Singh.

Warrier then had the experienced Yuvraj Singh caught at first slip by Arun Karthik. Before long, the host had slid to 169 for seven, from 137 for two.

The captain, who continued to bat calmly, was unfortunate to miss out on a hundred. He had made 89 (182b, 6x4, 1x6) when he gave the third catch of the innings to Azharuddeen, off Warrier, who finished with five for 83 from 27.2 overs.

Azharuddeen, playing his first match of the season, would soon find out the day could get even better. He came to the wicket in the first over itself after Manpreet Gony had cleaned opener Karthik up.

The other opener, P. Rahul, however, dropped his head and played confidently against a strong attack. But on 28, after doing all the hard work, he lost his head: an attempt to hit leg-spinner Mayank Markande out of the ground ended up in the hands of Baltej Singh at deep mid-wicket.

Azharuddeen (76 batting, 122b, 6x4, 2x6), however, calmed the nerves in Kerala’s dressing room. He played some delightful strokes, including a sweetly time straight drive off Baltej, and a couple of sixes off Markande.

At Mohali: Kerala 121 & 127 for three in 42 overs (Mohammed Azharuddeen 76 batting) vs Punjab 217 in 75.2 overs (Jiwanjot Singh 69, Mandeep Singh 89, Sandeep Warrier five for 83).