A lead of 70 runs was just the inspiration Taml Nadu needed to explore the chances of a win over Punjab in the Ranji Trophy match at the Vidarbha Cricket Stadium here.
The man who set it up for Tamil Nadu on the penultimate day was Kaushik Gandhi, 75 overnight. He added 89 on resumption today and placed Tamil Nadu in a position of strength. At close on Wednesday, Punjab was 121 for two with Uday Kaul (42) and Mandeep Singh (35) at the crease.
The day belonged to Gandhi, 26 years of age, but loads of experience in his game. Twelve Ranji Trophy matches in five years may not reflect his potential but this has been his season of reckoning. His value to the team came to the fore during the match against Madhya Pradesh at Cuttack last month when he cracked his maiden century, a brilliant 157 batting at No 3.
The early dismissal of L. Suryaparkash on Tuesday once again tested his resilience and temperament. Gandhi, entrusted with the task of firming one end up, was up to the challenge, digging deep into his ability to concentrate. His approach demonstrated his character. He faced 200 balls for his 75. On Wednesday, he returned to the crease with the same resolve and tackled 14 balls to take his individual score to a career-best 164.
Patience was Gandhi’s forte. It was his natural game too – to grind the attack and play the waiting game. He excelled in defence and made the most of some of the loose deliveries. The Tamil Nadu team backed him vociferously, reminding him of his responsibility when he looked like dropping his guard. Gandhi did not disappoint them. But Vijay Shankar did.
A gifted cricketer, Shankar played casually and came to grief after adding just one to his overnight score. Gandhi now played the dominant role in the company of the lower half and did well to stretch the lead to 70 before he was the last man out. His 350-ball essay contained 21 fours. Credit to Aushik Srinivas for his dogged support as he survived a blow below the right eye from a Siddharth Kaul short ball, which got stuck in the grill of the helmet as the batsman missed the intended pull shot.
Punjab began on a shaky note when it lost Jiwanjot Singh for nothing and Manan Vohra to a nothing shot after an attractive 41 with seven fours. Uday Kaul and Mandeep Singh averted further alarms.
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