Ranji Trophy: Kerala in driver's seat after Azharuddeen 80*

After Kerala's bowlers ended Tripura's second innings for 213, its openers put on an unbroken 162-run stand to put the team 66 runs away from its first outright win of the season.

Mohammed Azharuddeen

Mohammed Azharuddeen, 22, struck his third fifty in as many matches to put his team in comfort.   -  Ritu Raj Konwar

Kerala banked on its young wicketkeeper Mohammed Azharuddeen's third half-century in as many matches to move closer to a much-needed win on the penultimate day of the group C match against Tripura at the Barabati Stadium here on Thursday.

Kerala spinners, Iqbal Abdullah and Akshay Chandran, bowled tight lines to wrap up the Tripura second innings for 162.

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The unbroken opening pair of Azharuddeen (80) and Bhavin Thakkar (37) put up 117 runs to make light of the 183-run target. Kerala needs 66 more on the final day to ensure its first outright victory of the season.

Twenty-two-year-old Azharuddeen was responsible and prospered in the company of the experienced Thakkar.

Azharuddeen, named after the well-known former India captain, adjusted his game to play the drive and flick, which were not among his favourite shots. His 14 fours included four straight drives, including two majestic ones along the ground off Rana Datta and Sanjay Majumder.

"Bhavin bhai advised me to play straight and I did that," said Azharuddeen, who earlier held a brilliant one-handed diving catch to get rid of a set Udiyan Bose.

Thakkar showed a lot of grit to hold one end intact even while hitting some cracking boundaries on the onside. Azharuddeen and Thakkar nudged Tripura out of the contest to script Kerala's turnaround.

Earlier, Kerala's disciplined bowling helped it bowl the opponent out for 162 in the second innings. Many of Tripura's batsmen fell playing rash shots.

Basil Thampi claimed Bose's wicket to break the overnight opening stand at 42 and Sandeep Warrier had Bishal Ghosh caught behind to set the stage for the spinners.

Abhijit Dey, Yashpal Singh and Aniruddh Saha fell to Abdullah. Akshay exploited the cracks and accounted for four – Rajat Dey, Gurinder Singh, Datta and Smit Patel. Captain Manisnakar Murasingh was run out.

Smit Patel 's fighting 54 was the lone bright knock for Tripura.