Punjab turned out to be the dark horse of Group A and finished at the top of the table with 32 points. Before the tournament kicked off, nothing much was expected from the inexperienced team but youngsters like Jiwanjot Singh (785 runs at 65.41) and Sandeep Sharma (41 wickets at 17.91) rose to the occasion and churned out superlative performances to help their team notch up outright victories against Hyderabad, Bengal, Saurashtra and Rajasthan respectively. Uday Kaul (501 runs at 62.62) and Siddharth Kaul (34 wickets at 23.44) also made significant contributions.
Despite the defeats in their last two matches, Punjab remained at the top of the heap with 32 points. They will lock horns with Jharkhand at Jamshedpur in the quarter-final which starts from January 6.
Here, Cricketnext charts their road to the knockouts:
Before the season nothing much was expected from Punjab but youngsters Jiwanjot and Sandeep rose to the occasion.
1st match: Punjab 565 for 6 (Jiwanjot Singh 213, Karan Goel 129) beat Hyderabad 258 (Manpreet Gony 4/60) and 239 (Siddharth Kaul 5/53) by an innings and 68 runs
The 21-year-old Jiwanjot Singh became only the fifth Indian batsman – and 14th of all time – to score a double-century on debut. The right-hand opener cracked 213, inclusive of 33 boundaries, and with Karan Goel put on 288 for the opening wicket to lay the foundation for a mammoth total of 565 after Punjab had bowled Hyderabad out for 258 at the PCA Stadium in Mohali. The visitors didn't do any better in the second innings and were skittled out for 239.
2nd match: Punjab 579 for 7 (Uday Kaul 165, Jiwanjot 158, Mayank Sidhana 115) beat Bengal 326 (Rahul Sharma 4/53) and 226 (Gony 541) by an innings and 27 runs
Punjab pitched in another all-round and clinical performance to demolish Bengal on their home ground. In absence of Harbhajan Singh, Mandeep Singh captained the side. The hosts elected to field and restricted Bengal to 326. Jiwanjot caned his second consecutive century while Uday Kaul and Mayank Sidhana also smashed centuries as Punjab declared on 579 for 7. Manpreet Gony wreaked havoc and rolled Bengal over for 226 in the second innings. Punjab stormed to the top of the points table with 14 points from two matches.
3rd match: Punjab 314 (Uday Kaul 100, Amitoze Singh 55) and 59 for 2 drew with Railways 205 (Sandeep Sharma 4/38) and 353 for 5
Punjab won the toss third time in a row and elected to field. Sandeep Sharma and Siddharth Kaul chalked up four and three wickets each to bowl Railways out for 205 in the first innings. Punjab were in a spot of bother at 97 for 4 but Uday Kaul and Amitoze Singh compiled a 118-run partnership for the fifth wicket to bail out their team. They finally managed 314. Amit Paunikar creamed 166 in the second innings and Railways declared at 353 for 5. Punjab reached 59 for 2 in 28 overs as the match ended as a draw.
4th match: Punjab 205 (Jiwanjot 61) and 119 for 2 (Goel 75*) beat Saurashtra 90 (Sandeep Sharma 7/25) and 233 (Siddharth Kaul 6/63) by eight wickets
Punjab’s luck with the toss continued and their bowlers once again thoroughly decimated the opposition in their backyard. Sandeep ripped through Saurashtra and shot them out for 90 by claiming seven wickets for 25. Jiwanjot shone again and scored 61 as Punjab managed 205 in their first innings. Barring Sagar Jogiyani, who made 76, no other Saurashtra batsman showed resistance as Siddharth Kaul grabbed six wickets to restrict the visitors to 233 in their second innings. Sandeep nailed three scalps to claim his first ten-wicket hail in first-class cricket. Punjab knocked off a target of 119 runs at the loss of two wickets.
5th match: Punjab 215 and 206 for 1 (Jiwanjot 110) beat Rajasthan 222 and 196 (Sandeep Sharma 5/57) by nine wickets
Another toss and match won by Punjab at the PCA Stadium, giving them their fourth outright victory of the season in four matches at home. Though the hosts conceded a first innings lead of seven runs to the defending champions, Sandeep's five-wicket haul restricted the visitors to 196 in the second innings. Jiwanjot hit his third century as Punjab chased down a target of 206 comfortably at the loss of just one wicket.
6th match: Punjab 580 (Mandeep Singh 211) and 59 drew with Mumbai 485 (Gony 5/87) and 61 for 2
The match was meandering towards a tame draw after Punjab took a first-innings lead of 95 by restricting Mumbai to 485 at tea on day four at the Wankhede Stadium. But the left-arm spinner Ankeet Chavan had other plans. In what was the most dramatic session of this Ranji Trophy season, Chavan cut a swath through the visitors' batting line-up and snapped up nine wickets to shoot Punjab out for 59 in 23.5 overs. The hosts needed 155 runs for the victory but they didn't have enough time and overs at hand. They belted 61 runs in six overs at the loss of two wickets when the day was called. Chavan's bowling figures (11.5-2-23-9) are the third-best in the annals of the Ranji Trophy. Punjab fetched three points from the match and remained at the top by taking their tally to 32.
7th match: Punjab 148 and 364 (Yuvraj Singh 131) lost to Madhya Pradesh 323 (Sandeep Sharma 5/92) and 193 for 2 by eight wickets
The chink in Punjab's armour had started to appear during the game against Mumbai when they were bundled out for 59 in their second innings. Punjab had dominated their group in the first half of the league matches by thrashing other teams at their home ground but as soon as they moved out of their comfort zone, tables were turned. Madhya Pradesh skipper Devendra Bundela scored tons in both innings (108 and 100*) of the match as Punjab slumped to their first defeat of the Ranji season at Captain Roop Singh Stadium, Gwalior. Even Yuvraj Singh's scintillating century in the second innings couldn't compensate for their paltry first-innings total of 148.
8th match: Punjab 268 (Uday Kaul 93) and 193 lost to Gujarat 266 (Sandeep Sharma 4/40) and 232 (Sarabjit Ladda 4-112) by 37 runs
The season which started with a bang for Punjab ended on a tepid note. Their problems against left-arm spinners aggravated as Rakesh Dhurv claimed eight wickets in the match to sink them at Valsad. Manprit Juneja played vital innings (42 and 79) and was instrumental in his team’s victory against a formidable Punjab side. Chasing 231 for the win, the visitors slumped to 130 for 9 but the last pair, Sandeep and Sarabjit Ladda, showed remarkable defiance to add 63. Dhurv, befittingly, bagged the last wicket by castling Sandeep for 25.