KOCHI: At a time his side needed him the most, Sanju Samson delivered a 56-ball 72 which had style and sensibility in equal measures. It also ensured Kerala’s passage to the Super League stages of the Syed Mushtaq Ali national T20 championship.
And how? By registering a five-wicket victory over a Punjab side that had India internationals in Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan Singh. This was their fifth consecutive win in Group B, where they are the current leaders.
Though the win chasing 136 was achieved off the penultimate ball after Kerala played themselves into trouble losing two wickets in the final over, they always looked to be in the driving seat.
Much of the credit goes to opener Sanju, who lasted till the 20th over overseeing a tranquil innings.
Sanju and opening partner Mohammed Azharuddeen gave Kerala a solid start, negotiating the first nine overs and putting on board 62 before the latter fell for 25 to Harbhajan, when he went after a short delivery but only managed to find Gurinder Singh near the long-on boundary.
However, Sanju kept going wisely and kept the scoreboard ticking mainly by running between the wickets, even as Rohan Prem and captain Sachin Baby returned to the dressing room without contributing much.
That was until Kerala were three wickets down and needing 41 to win from five overs when the 21-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman decided to go on the offensive. In the 16th over, Sanju hit two boundaries — the first to bring up Kerala’s 100 and the second to complete his second half-century of the tournament.
After being dropped on 56 while trying to clear the rope, Sanju hit a four and a six off Baltej Singh in the 19th over before departing in the second ball of the final over to Siddhart Kaul, leaving Kerala two runs short of the target.
Siddhart sent back Raiphi Vincent Gomez too with the very next ball to create a mini scare for Kerala, but Prasanth Padmanabhan scored the single to draw Kerala level before VA Jagadeesh hit the boundary that handed Kerala the pass to the Super League for the third time since 2012.
Earlier, Kerala had restricted Punjab to a manageable 135 by packing off batsmen from one end, while Yuvraj was in his element at the other. Prasanth was once again the pick of the bowlers, accounting for Manan Vohra, Pargat Singh and Harbhajan conceding just 11 runs.
Pacer Basil Thampi also had a good outing bowling the 18th and 20th overs conceding little and picking up two wickets including that of Yuvraj, who departed for a 44-ball 54, in the penultimate ball of the first innings.
Though Kerala have ensured progress, three other teams in the group have all to play for on the final match day on Sunday when Kerala play Jharkhand, who have 16 points, and Punjab and Jharkhand, both with 12, face each other.
Domestic t20 wrap
At Nagpur: Tamil Nadu 168/6 in 20 ovs (B Shankar 41, R Sathish 41 no, J Kousik 27 no) lost to Himachal 173/4 in 16.5 ovs (P Dogra 79 no, PP Jaiswal 22 no).
Hyderabad 139/7 in 20 ovs (H Vihari 40, Akshath Reddy 37, R Thakur 3/29, A Karnewar 2/20) lost to Vidarbha 142/5 in 20 ovs (A Wankhade 43 no, U Patel 33, C Milind 2/26).
Haryana 127/3 in 20 ovs (N Saini 74 no, M Hooda 38) bt Bengal 110/8 in 20 ovs (W Saha 32, SS Mondal 23, P Chandila 24, A Mishra 4/30, H Patel 2/16).
At Kochi: Saurashtra 128/5 in 20 ovs (C Pujara 54 no, S Singh 2/23) lost to Jharkhand 132/3 in 19.3 ovs (V Singh 41, S Sanadia 2/22).
Punjab 135/7 in 20 ovs (Y Singh 54, P Singh 35, P Prasanth 3/11, B Thampi 2/30) lost to Kerala 139/5 in 19.5 ovs (S Samson 72, H Singh 2/19, S Kaul 2/24) .
Rajasthan 112/9 in 20 ovs (R Bhatia 34, M Murasingh 2/32, R Dutta 2/15, V Saha 2/8, B Roy 2/16) lost to Tripura 113/9 in 20 ovs (R Dey 43, N Singh 4/25, C Chundawat 2/21).
At Vadodara: Railways 142/8 in 20 ovs (M Rawat 72 no, MK Dutta 3/23, A Verma 3/20, P Das 2/16) lost to Assam 147/5 in 18.2 ovs (P Das 77, S Mohammed 36, A Singh 2/30, A Yadav 2/20).
Delhi 91 in 19.2 ovs (S Jakati 5/17, L Garg 2/5) bt Goa 89/9 in 20 ovs (S Bandekar 31 no, P Awana 3/21, A Sudan 2/10).
Andhra 91/9 in 20 ovs (KS Bharat 30, R Arothe 2/19, H Pandya 2/13, B Bhatt 2/5) lost to Baroda 93/7 in 16.5 ovs (B Sudhakar 3/15, S Srinivas 2/18).