Punia, Gupta keep J&K in hunt

On tricky final day Services with 6 wickets in hand need 63 more to win.

Facing heavy odds, Jammu and Kashmir fought back on the penultimate day of their Ranji Trophy match against Services to keep their hopes of a positive result alive. Beginning the day at 136/6, essentially 0/6 – they only just erased their first innings deficit – J&K led by middle order batsman Manik Gupta (58) and Ramdayal Punia (62), who shared a 99 run stand, managed to push the total to 269 – giving the hosts a target of 134. Their bowlers then struck back leaving Services 71/4 still needing 63 runs away from victory.

Always on the backfoot after being bowled out for 85 before lunch on the first day, few would have given much chance to the J&K side at the start of the third day. With the pitch providing ample assistance to the pacers in the morning session, the Services pacers would have been confident of wrapping things up quickly. But while conditions had been overcast on the previous two days, the sun shone brightly perhaps signalling a change in fortunes. And so while seamers Nishant Singh and Suraj Yadav repeatedly beat the bat, they were unable to find the edge of Gupta and Punia. Resuming on 22 and 9 respectively, the two weathered out the early storm.

"We knew we had to get past the first hour. After that we had come to realise that the heavy outfield made the ball wet and that made any swing disappear," said Punia. Indeed as the runs came, first as a trickle and then steadily. The Services fielders didn't make things easier for their bowlers either. Misfields crept into their game, and when Gupta was on 41, a regulation slip catch off the bowling of Yadav was shelled by skipper Soomik Chatterjee. With the batsmen settled even the new ball failed to test them. It was against the run of play that Gupta who faced 174 balls and hit 9 fours, was caught lbw by Nishant Singh.

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