Kuldeep Sen bowled a lethal spell up front but Saurashtra’s middle and lower order staged a spirited fightback to stretch the Irani Cup tie into the fourth day at the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium on Monday.
When Sen struck thrice in his opening spell to leave Saurashtra tottering at 87 for five, the demons of the first innings collapse were hovering over their head. To wipe off the first innings deficit of 276 and make Rest of India bat again was a distant dream.
By the end of the day’s play, however, riding on two entertaining partnerships, Saurashtra ended the day at a respectable 368 for eight, with a lead of 92. It will take a Herculean task for captain Jaydev Unadkat (78*, 116b, 8x4, 2x6) to stretch the lead beyond 150 runs and give his bowling unit a remote chance of a win.
When Arpit Vasavada, the Player-of the-Match in the semifinal and the final of Saurashtra’s triumphant Ranji Trophy campaign in 2019-20, joined veteran Sheldon Jackson in the middle, Sen was on fire. The lanky pacer had accounted for Chirag Jani (off-stump uprooted cartwheeling), big fish Cheteshwar Pujara (edged off the shoulder of the bat to the ‘keeper) and night-watcher Dharmendra Jadeja (scooped to covers) in his first four overs.
Jackson and Vasavada played the pacers on the backfoot. Once spin was introduced, Jackson started opening up his shoulders, while left-handed Vasavada scored freely square of the wickets. Despite Saurabh Kumar and Jayant Yadav employing a fielder on the boundary right behind the bowler to restrict Jackson’s trademark lofted straight drive, the batter swiftly hoicked them over covers.
Just when the partnership was looking dangerous, Jackson was caught at covers off Mukesh Kumar. Vasavada too missed a sweep off Saurabh and at 215 for seven, it looked like a day three finish was inevitable.
Unadkat and Prerak Mankad then put together a strokeful partnership to the delight of a handful of spectators, including the captain’s family members. Both played the tiring bowlers with panache, impressing with their clean hitting. Unadkat, on 54, was fortunate to have been dropped at deep square by Jayant off a perfect short ball by Umran Malik.
Had Mankad not scooped a Jayant long-hop to Umran on the on-side in the dying minutes, Rest of India would have started feeling jittery at the start of Tuesday’s play.