Shubham Sharma and Himanshu Mantri executed Madhya Pradesh’s plan to perfection and guided their team to seize a lead against Punjab on the second day of the Ranji Trophy quarterfinals.
With Shubham remaining unbeaten on 102 (210b, 9x4, 1x6) alongside Mantri’s 241-ball 89, the Madhya Pradesh side reigned over Punjab bowlers to end the day at 238 for two, with a lead of 19 runs at the Alur (3) ground.
Picking up from their overnight score of five for no loss, MP imperceptibly silenced the Punjab bowlers over three sessions and walked into stumps with Shubam and Rajat Patidar (20) remaining unbeaten.
Openers Yash Dubey and Mantri remained committed to their task of seeing off a potent Punjab new-ball attack in Sidharth Kaul and Baltej Singh. The seamers gave nothing away from either end nor did the batters flinch for a moment in the first 13 overs where Kaul (5-2-3-0) and Baltej (7-3-7-0) were at the top of their game.
While the lanky Baltej hit the deck hard to extract bounce on a surface that had regained solidity post the showers on Sunday, Kaul varied his lengths and constantly flipped sides. The openers almost successfully dead-batted through the entire session before Punjab struck through leg-spinner Mayank Markande. Dubey, who scored a match-winning 289 against Kerala in his last First Class outing, miscued an uncharacteristic slog-sweep straight to Baltej at mid-on.
Mantri and Shubham joined hands at 64 for one and led MP to lunch before flexing muscles against Abhishek Sharma’s men.
Punjab had an early chance in the second session when Mantri chipped Markande to substitute fielder Prerit Dutta, who failed to latch onto a regulation catch at mid-on. Punjab’s deplorable body language soon turned to negative tactics, with six fielders being employed on the on-side midway into the session.
The innings turned one-dimensional with Mantri and Shubham pummeling and caressing the ball upon merit. Both batters completed their half-centuries by Tea. However, in a momentary lapse of judgement, Mantri squandered a chance for his maiden First Class ton by stepping out to a flighted delivery from Markande. The left-hander misread the length and was out stumped.
MP did not deviate from their approach as Shubham switched gears with the confidence of an in-form Patidar at the other end. Shubham notched up his third century of the tournament from five innings, minutes before the close of play as MP quietly tugged the momentum their way.