Maharashtra's slide tightens contest for first-innings points

Maharashtra 244 for 5 (Khurana 64*, Tripathi 47*) trail Rajasthan 318 (Menaria 84, Bhatia 59) by 74 runs

File photo – Chirag Khurana’s innings displayed the kind of stability missing from Maharashtra’s top order
© ESPNcricinfo Ltd

A hard-fought day’s cricket, full of sweat and slips, has left the Group A Ranji Trophy match between Rajasthan and Maharashtra poised interestingly for first-innings points. Rajasthan lost their remaining five wickets for 60, but looked like they could take Maharashtra’s five for as many, only for their fielders to drop catches and a no-ball to cost them a wicket.

Maharashtra, though, refused to accept the gifts as the top order threw away their wickets, most noticeably Kedar Jadhav holing out to long-on just before tea.

It wasn’t all sloppy cricket, though: the Rajasthan bowlers toiled hard to create chances, and the sixth-wicket stand for Maharashtra – a resolute and unbeaten 113 between Rahul Tripathi and Chirag Khurana – took them to within 74 of Rajasthan’s score. Khurana, who had taken a crucial wicket and a run-out in the field, scored a fifty while Tripathi wasn’t too far behind.

All this was played in front of a crowd – basically some 20 abusive hecklers – who would have been beeped out even during the Attitude Era of WWE. They started softly enough by shouting out for a sight of young pace sensation Nathu Singh. The Rajasthan lower order obliged them by falling soon, even though Deepak Chahar kept pushing Rajasthan through some big hits. Nathu lasted just one ball, out lbw, and there would be a longer wait to see Nathu because he doesn’t take the new ball.

Chahar and tall left-arm seamer Aniket Choudhary provided enough action before Nathu could be introduced. Aniket got Harshad Khadiwale, but off a no-ball; Chahar got Swapnil Gugale but Puneet Yadav dropped him at first slip. Abuse emanated from the stands, which carried into the middle because there was nobody else in the stadium. Yadav soon courted more abuse when he dropped a sitter off the bowling of Nathu. Rohit Motwani was the beneficiary here.

Motwani was in the middle because Gugale had failed to capitalise on the reprieve. He padded up without covering the stumps, and Aniket bowled him from round the wicket. Khadiwale soon followed suit, by cutting Chahar straight to cover-point. Motwani, who had late-cut Nathu for three successive boundaries, then edged a ball not short enough. At 83 for 3, it was down to the two big hopes in the middle order, Kedar Jadhav and Ankit Bawne.

Chahar had gone off for a niggle, but in that middle session Aniket and Nathu tested the batsmen. The movement was gone, but the effort wasn’t. Nathu bowled the whole first hour after lunch, and now the bored crowd found a new target. “Oye Rajat Bhatia haath toh utha de, pata lage kaunsa hai,” was the shout. “Hey Rajat Bhatia, at least raise your hand so we know which one is you.” An IPL regular, a domestic stalwart, put in place in the public court in two minutes.

Bhatia soon came on, bowled tightly, as he does, but it was the 18-year-old left-arm spinner Kukna Ajay Singh, who turned the game for Rajasthan. He has a quick-arm action, bowls a quick pace, and stays accurate. There is action put on the ball, although not always side-spin. In his first over, he had Bawne lbw. Bawne had scored only 9 off 45 balls, and now was beaten on the inside-edge on a forward-defensive. The bat was involved, too, but the ball hit the pad first. Jadhav, who had breezed away to 45, paid no heed to the presence of a long-on and went for a slog sweep minutes before tea. The ball was too full, took the edge, and he was caught.

After tea, though, with all the three quicks fit and raring, Khurana and Tripathi did what the top order should have done. The ball reverse-swung for Nathu and Aniket, but Maharashtra denied them, and scored only when opportunities provided themselves. Also, strangely, Kukna had his end changed after tea. Tripathi jumped out of his cocoon only once, stepping out and hitting Kukna over mid-off for a six. Behind the over rate, bowling with the old ball, Rajasthan looked worried now and retreated. They preferred to wait for stumps and the new ball in the morning session.

Runs kept coming at a fair clip, though. The two scored at more than three an over, which means Rajasthan cannot put all their plans in the new-ball basket. Rajasthan will need to strike at least once before the new ball becomes due because by that time Maharashtra will be only about 50 adrift.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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