A day after being released from India’s Test squad that swept West Indies 2-0, both Mohammed Siraj and Hanuma Vihari starred in the Vijay Hazare Trophy quarter-final at the Just Cricket Academy Ground in Bengaluru. But it was the fast bowler’s double-strike, taking the key wickets of Vihari (95) and Ricky Bhui (52), that cracked the game open and helped Hyderabad defend 281 to reach the semi-finals.
After nipping out wicketkeeper-batsman Srikar Bharat for 12 in an erratic first spell that read 5-1-31-1, Siraj returned for his second to break the third-wicket stand with Bhui’s wicket to trigger a collapse that limited Andhra to 267 for 9.
It began when he found extra bounce and had Bhui ramping a catch to third man for 52 off 71 balls. In his next over, Siraj hit an in-between length – neither full nor short – and found sharp reverse swing to have Vihari chopping on, when the Andhra captain seemed on track for his fifth List A hundred. Siraj could have made it three wickets in three overs had Tanmay Agarwal not dropped B Sumanth’s heathy edge at slip. No problem, Andhra’s lower order panicked under pressure as they crumbled from 198 for 2 to 259 for 9 and ultimately lost by 14 runs.
Siraj ended with 3 for 50, setting up a semi-final clash with Mumbai, who will be bolstered by the addition of Prithvi Shaw and Ajinkya Rahane. Andhra were gliding towards their second successive semi-final in the 50-over tournament, when Vihari was in his shot-making stride. He latched on to anything that was remotely full and wide of off. He even created his own lengths by taking regular trips down the pitch. After unfurling a variety of drives in the arc between backward point and the covers, he forced Siraj to shorten his lengths. When the fast bowler banged in a chest-high short ball on middle, Vihari swiftly swivelled on the back foot and hooked a six into the sparse but vocal crowd over long leg.
Vihari then surged down the track against left-arm spinners B Sandeep and Mehdi Hasan and sent them out of the ground. He meted out the same treatment to legspinner Akash Bhandari and raised a run-a-ball fifty with another mighty six. When he was on 59, he shimmied out and belted a legbreak back to Bhandari, but the force of the shot ensured the return catch burst through the hands.
Bhui, at the other end, was particularly fluent square on the off side, and progressed to a fifty of his own. Enter Siraj, again with his reverse swing at rapid speed. Game over for Andhra, despite late blows from No. 9 KV Sasikanth. Siraj’s team-mates jumped onto him and celebrated wildly in the middle of the pitch amid fading light.
After overnight rains had delayed the start of the game by 15 minutes, Sasikanth and B Ayyappa swung the new ball and explored the channel outside off. Andhra also packed the off-side ring for left-handed opener Agarwal and cut off his drives. It was debutant left-arm seamer, 20-year old Prithvi Raj, who produced the breakthrough when he got rid of Akshath Reddy for 18 with his fourth ball, in the 11th over. Five overs later, Girinath Reddy coaxed an outside edge from Agarwal for 31.
When Prithvi Raj pinned Rohit Rayudu in front for 21 in the 22nd over, Hyderabad were 97 for 3. The left-armer got the ball to fizz off the pitch and tested the Rayudu – Ambati – with bouncers. After seeing off that spell, Ambati Rayudu stretched out and slog-swept legspinner Karn Sharma for a six over square leg.
Vihari, who introduced himself into the attack after 25 overs, sprayed a full toss down the leg side for four and continued to struggle with his lines and lengths, as did Karn. They had combined figures of 10-0-65-0.
After Ambati Rayudu ran himself out off a free hit, Sandeep, Hyderabad’s top-scorer in this competition, extended his fine run with 96 off 97 balls. He reverse-swept Karn for four, slammed Bandaru over his head and muscled Girinath Reddy over midwicket into the media zone. He led Hyderabad’s late burst – they took 34 runs in the last four overs – before holing out in the final over.
Andhra’s openers Ashwin Hebbar and Bharat began the chase brightly and then Vihari hit higher notes, but it was Siraj who had the final say.