Despite losing their final Group C match against Maharashtra and finishing with the same number of points as four other teams in the group, Punjab made it to the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy 2019-20 Super League on the basis of their superior net run rate.
Apart from Maharashtra, who topped the group, and Punjab, Delhi and Jharkhand from Group E also advanced to the next round on the final day of the group-stage action. Karnataka and Baroda from Group A, Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan from Group B, and Mumbai and Haryana from Group D were already through to the Super League, which will be followed by the semi-finals and the final.
Punjab win five-way race despite defeat
Azim Kazi and captain Rahul Tripathi's unbeaten half-centuries helped Maharashtra beat Punjab and took them to the pole position with 20 points. Railways also had a chance to join them but they faltered against Himachal Pradesh, leaving five teams - Punjab, Chandigarh, Chhattisgarh, Hyderabad and Railways - tied on the second spot with 16 points each.
Had there been only two teams tied on points, the winner of the head-to-head contest would have qualified for the next stage. But that particular playing condition didn't apply here and Punjab made the cut, thanks to their healthy net run rate.
After opting to field, Punjab had Maharashtra on 90 for 4 in the 12th over but Kazi (71* off 36) and Tripathi (63* off 27) added 111 in just 48 balls in an unbroken fifth-wicket stand to propel them to 201 for 4. Punjab captain Mandeep Singh led the chase with 67 off 49 balls but there wasn't much support from the other batsmen. In the end, Punjab could manage only 156 for 7 and fell short by 45 runs.
In the Railways v Himachal game, Nitin Sharma (76 off 51) and Prashant Chopra (47 off 30) helped Himachal to 193 for 4. Mrunal Devdhar (26 off 15) started well for Railways but once he was dismissed, the chase fell apart. Railways eventually stuttered to 139 for 9, losing the game - and the qualification spot - by 54 runs.
Delhi prevail, Jammu & Kashmir fail
The equation was relatively simple in Group E. Jharkhand with 22 points were at the top, with Delhi and Jammu & Kashmir tied on 18 points with a match in hand.
Delhi beat Odisha by 20 runs on the back of Lalit Yadav's three-wicket haul. After opting to bat, Delhi made 149 for 6, with Shikhar Dhawan top-scoring with a 33-ball 35. In response, Odisha were all out for 129 in 18.1 overs. Apart from Lalit, Nitish Rana and Pawan Negi also chipped in with two wickets each.
Had Jammu & Kashmir won their game against Gujarat, they would also have been on 22 points, making it a three-way tie at the top. But they crumbled against Chintan Gaja and Hardik Patel and were dismissed for 101. Gujarat then knocked down the target in just 13.3 overs. Jammu & Kashmir's defeat meant Jharkhand also made it to the next round.