Ranji Trophy: Jalaj Saxena puts Kerala on top

Jalaj Saxena’s brilliant five-wicket haul kept Kerala in the hunt for first innings lead in its Ranji Trophy Group C match against Himachal Pradesh at the Eden Gardens here on Friday.

Jalaj Saxena took 5-53 to put Kerala on top against Himachal Pradesh.

Jalaj Saxena’s brilliant five-wicket haul kept Kerala in the hunt for first innings lead in its Ranji Trophy Group C match against Himachal Pradesh at the Eden Gardens here on Friday.

Saxena achieved his 12th five-for and the milestone of 200 first class wickets as Kerala restricted Himachal to 198 for eight in its first innings at the end of the second day’s play. Kerala, which resumed from 163 for four to post 248 in its first essay, was still 50 runs ahead.

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Openers Prashant Chopra and Ankush Bains gave Himachal a bright start adding 74 runs in 17 overs. They played fearlessly even as the Kerala pacers tested them by bowling an off-stump line.

Chopra (60) hit some cracking shots to the off-side fence and lifted left-arm spinner Iqbal Abdullah straight for two sixes. Bains gave Chopra good company to put Kerala under pressure.

However, Saxena banked on his wealth of experience and bowled with a lot of control to get a good deal out of a slow and flat track. The 29-year-old off-spinner from Madhya Pradesh took a diving catch off his own bowling to remove Bains and had Nikhil Gangta stumped in consecutive overs. Soon, he bamboozled Paras Dogra.

A skilful Sandeep Warrier claimed Chopra’s wicket. The Kerala pacer came round the wicket to uproot Chopra’s middle stump as Himachal lost four wickets for 100.

Rishi Dhawan and Robin Bist added 40 runs for the fifth wicket before the latter was caught at short-leg off Monish. Bist fell to Abdullah with his team struggling at 150 for six.

Sumeet Verma and Mayank Dagar put up a tremendous resistance in a patient 34-run stand off 96 deliveries.

It was Saxena who again brought Kerala back into the game in his second spell. In one over, he had an advancing Dagar caught at point and trapped Shresth Nirmohi in front. “Since there was not much turn, I tried to explore different angles and it worked well for us,” said Saxena.

Earlier, Kerala progressed at a snail's pace as overnight batsmen Sachin Baby (61) and V.A. Jagadeesh (35) gathered about 20 runs in the first hour. Both were adjudged lbw off Dagar in quick succession.

Dhawan picked up three more wickets to return four for 66 as Kerala's first innings ended at the stroke of lunch.