Skipper Perveez Rasool led from the front with a scintillating century as Jammu and Kashmir fought back gallantly to leave their Ranji Trophy quarter-final match against strong contenders Punjab evenly poised here today.
In reply to Punjab's first innings score of 304, Jammu and Kashmir rode on Rasool's gutsy 103 off 137 balls before folding up for 277, conceding a slender first innings lead of 27 runs on the second day. J&K seamers Umar Nazir and Mohammed Mudhasir then struck two early blows to remove the in-form openers Jiwanjot Singh (8) and Manan Vohra (7) cheaply.
At stumps, Punjab were struggling at 15 for two, having an overall lead of 42. With Ranji quarter-finals being a five-day affair, there is every possibility that this slender first innings lead will be of little consequence as the match is expected to have an outright result with three full days left. The day belonged to Rasool, who showed that he is ready to go one up on Harbhajan as he hit 11 fours and a lovely six over deep mid-wicket off veteran India off-spinner's bowling.
He completed his fifth first-class century with a couple of boundaries. The ton came off 131 balls. Rasool had two important partnerships during the course of the Jammu and Kashmir innings. The first was a 81-run stand with in-form opener Adil Rishi (65) for the fourth wicket after J&K were reduced to 62 for three. Rishi and Rasool carried the team to 141 before Yuvraj Singh trapped the opener leg before with an arm ball.
Rishi hit nine fours and one six in his 108-ball innings. Rishi's total runs this season has gone upto 643 but Rasool today overtook him as he completed 650 runs in the current season. Once Rishi was out, Punjab got two quick wickets with Majid Dar edging one off pacer VRV Singh to Yuvraj in the slips and Hardeep Singh offering a simple return catch to opposition captain Harbhajan Singh. At 168 for six, Punjab were looking at a sizeable lead but Rasool started a swift counter-attack in company of Samiullah Beigh (37).
The duo added 86 runs for the seventh wicket as Jammu and Kashmir crossed 250-run mark. Rasool's valiant effort finally came to an end when Punjab's premier seamer Sandeep Sharma (4/46) bowled a fuller delivery that kept low and the J&K skipper misjudged the line of the delivery to get bowled. Sharma then got into the act by cleaning up Beigh and then trapping Mudhasir (0) with an incoming delivery.
At 265 for nine, it was young Ram Dayal (18), who had hit some lusty blows including four boundaries, took the score to 277 before Manpreet Gony got last-man Umar Nazir caught by Manan Vohra to keep the lead down to 27. J&K bowlers came out all guns blazing in the 10 overs that they bowled with Mudhasir removing Jiwanjot caught by Beigh while Nazir got Manan to drag one back onto his stumps.
Punjab 304 & 15/2. J&K 277 (Perveez Rasool 103, Adil Rishi 65, Samiullah Beigh 37, Sandeep Sharma 4/46). Punjab lead by 42 runs with 8 wickets remaining.