For Services to topple a strong Kerala, it needed a disciplined performance and luck to favour it. The toss evened the scales just slightly, and hara-kiri by Kerala’s middle-order batters between overs 31st and 37th gave it the advantage as it brushed aside its opponent with relative ease in the end at the K. L. Saini Stadium in Jaipur. The seven-wicket win meant Services had made it to the semifinals of the Vijay Hazare Trophy for the first time.
Fast bowler Diwesh Pathania (3 for 19) and opening batter Rajat Chauhan (95, 90b, 13×4, 3×6) made decisive contributions with ball and bat, respectively, ensuring a thorough performance from a team devoid of superstars.
Inserted in, Kerala was put under pressure by the fast bowlers – especially Pathania – from the get-go. In his excellent first spell, Pathania eventually got two wickets in two balls with deliveries that moved away slightly after pitching.
As it happened|
Vijay Hazare Trophy HIGHLIGHTS, Quarterfinals: Saurashtra reaches semifinal; Services knocks out Kerala
Later in the innings, Pathania came back to help wipe the tail in a hurry, but the real damage was done when the seamers weren’t bowling, after Rohan Kunnummal (85, 106b, 7×4, 2×6) had steadied the ship in the company of Vinoop Manoharan and Sachin Baby. Rohan had batted patiently and played his strokes, too, showcasing his pulls, drives and cuts, including a delightful late cut off Pulkit Narang, the off-spinner, in the 15th over. But his efforts weren’t enough as the middle-order batters dug a hole for themselves.
First, Sachin top-edged while attempting a sweep shot off Pulkit Narang, the off-spinner, and was dismissed caught by the wicketkeeper in the 31st over. Soon after, Sanju Samson, the captain, smashed a half-volley from Narang straight to the fielder at long-on and was dismissed for 2. Then, the set Rohan got out, too, run out at the non-strikers’ end after a mix-up.
From 135 for 3, Kerala had stagnated to 161 for 6 and the tail was exposed. Pathania and the rest of the seamers scythed through the lower order, the last three wickets falling within a span of five deliveries.
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Services’ top order still had to see off the new ball and to safely negotiate Basil Thampi & Co. Both Thampi, who was breathing fire, and his bowling partner Manu Krishnan were backed up by good fielding and a lot of verbal encouragement from their teammates. With two short-of-a-length deliveries angling across the right-handers, Krishan got two wickets in one over.
But once the fast bowlers were given a rest and the spinners started operating from both ends, Chauhan and Rajat Paliwal (65, 86b, 8×4) started to keep the scoreboard ticking with many singles and the odd boundary. By the 16th over of the chase, the tide had turned, Chauhan reaching his half-century with a slog-sweep for six.
Recognising that the contest was slipping away from his grasp, Samson brought back Krishnan in the 18th over, but to no avail. Paliwal was the understudy for much of his partnership with Chauhan, but even he started playing his strokes, matching his stylish partner. There was no looking back for Services, although Chauhan, against the run of play, got out before reaching his century, falling to left-arm spinner Sijomon Joseph.
That it wasn’t Kerala’s day was signified when Rohan, the top-scorer for his side, dropped a catch in the 27th over. Chauhan had slog-swept the ball to deep midwicket where Rohan, diving forward, couldn’t hold on.
Kerala 175 in 40.4 overs (Rohan 85, Manoharan 41) lost to Services 176 for 3 in 30.5 overs (Chauhan 95, Paliwal 65 n.o.) by seven wickets.