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Kerala trip on Bichitra spin
- Assam post season’s first outright win

Hailakandi, Nov. 26: So near and yet so far. Visitors Kerala, who were eyeing an outright win yesterday, today ended up handing a 32-run victory to Assam — the first for the hosts in the current Ranji Trophy season — in a Plate Group-A match at S.M. Dev Stadium in Silchar.

With 66 runs to win and four wickets to spare in the second innings, the visitors today failed to negotiate the spin attack of left-arm spinner Bichitra Baruah and were all out for 233 in 126 overs before lunch.

Assam scored 198 runs in the first innings while the visitors were bowled out for 85 in 52.2 overs. In the second innings, Assam posted a total of 152 runs, losing all the wickets in 49.3 overs on the second day of the match on Saturday.

Set a target of 266 runs to win, Kerala were reduced to 64 for five in the second innings yesterday. However, a brilliant 136-run sixth wicket partnership between southpaws Rohan Prem (53) and P. Prasanth yesterday helped Kerala overcome the top order collapse to be close to victory at the end of the third day.

This morning, however, Assam medium pacer Dhiraj Goswami served the first blow, dismissing overnight batsman Prasanth. He managed to add only three runs to his overnight score of 80 runs.

Wicketkeeper-batsman V. Gopinathan Nair was the only Kerala batsman to put up some resistance against the Assam bowling attack with a knock of 12 runs before Souvik Das caught him off a Bichitra Baruah turner. Tinu Yohannan remained unbeaten on seven.

Bichitra Baruah claimed four for 13 off 18 overs in the second innings to justify the selectors choosing him in place of seasoned paceman Mark Ingty for the match. Dhiraj Goswami notched three for 65 and medium pacer Somasetty Suresh managed two for 83. Spinner Bitop Mahanta claimed one for 33.

With this win, Assam have tallied five points, taking the total to six. Assam went down to Gujarat in the first match at Ahmedabad and then shared a point with Vidarbha as the first home match of the season in Guwahati was washed out.

Gujarat lead Group A with an enviable 17 points, while Kerala are in second place with nine points.

Assam now have two more matches at Nehru Stadium in Guwahati against Services from December 1 to 4 and Tripura from December 9 to 12.

Assam, who made it to the semifinals last year, will have to tally full points from the remaining matches and Kerala will have to lose or concede a first innings lead in a drawn match in their remaining matches to be in contention for a berth in the knockouts.

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