As Services batsmen Rajat Paliwal and Sarabjit Singh left the field at stumps having given their side the crucial first innings lead of 65, the cheers from their teammates were tempered with the understanding that the three points were in no way assured.
The hosts had started the game perfectly, having dismissed the visiting J&K side for just 85 but had then themselves collapsed to 39/6 before Paliwal (66 not out) and Singh (38 not out) took them to 150/6. With three days left, and only a modest lead so far, the advantage is only marginal.
J&K, confident on the back of consecutive victories, inexplicably chose to bat first in overcast conditions and on a pitch that had more than a tinge of green. While the wicket had indeed been relatively easy to bat on in the previous two games here, history suggested the wicket would change character as the season went on.
If Ian Dev Singh, the J&K skipper, was looking to make a statement, he wouldn’t get a chance as the Services seamers found plenty of movement. Singh edged seamer Suraj Yadav to Anshul Gupta in the slips in just the third over. Yadav then had Hardeep Singh trapped in front with an inswinger in the seventh over and when pace partner Nishan Singh had the other opener Adil Rishi caught plumb in front in the next over, J&K were tottering at 15/3.
Wickets kept falling steadily and tailender Ramdayal Punia tried to swing his way out of trouble and got to 18 — the highest score of the innings. Last man Mohammand Mudhasir was bowled by Yadav, his fourth wicket of the innings.
Lunch was called although it were the visitors who were chewed out by coach Bishen Bedi. Whatever he said clearly worked as Punia had skipper Soomik Chatterjee edging to keeper Haroon in the first over itself. It was the Services batsmen who were now fending and poking. When seamer Sahil Sharma had Soumyaranjan Swain caught in front for 11, the home team were struggling at 39/6.
Paliwal’s rearguard rescue
Services however still had an ace up their sleeve.