Hardik Rathod had no reputation whatsoever to flaunt in comparison with his new ball partner Jaydev Unadkat, who has a long list of achievements. He was capped in a Test match in South Africa some five years ago and was given chances in seven one-day internationals three years ago. Moreover he is a regular in the Saurashtra team.

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But on the first day of the five-day Ranji Trophy semifinal between Saurashtra and Assam at the Reliance Stadium here on Saturday, Rathod grabbed the leadership role and was chiefly instrumental in restricting Assam to 193 for 7 wickets. The main rescue-act partnership for the visitor came from Amit Verma (74 batting, 346m, 210b, 11x4) and K. B. Arun Karthick (59, 231m, 144b, 6x4, 1x6).

Seizing the opportunity in the absence of an injured Saurya Sanandia, the 27-year-old Rathod, who has represented the Railways for two seasons (2012-14), bowled at a steady pace and made the new ball count after his captain elected to field. He removed the openers by the completion of the ninth over, and then broke the resistance of Arun Karthick. Unadkat struck late in the 14th over by castling the Assam captain, Gokul Sharma, neck and crop. He thereafter outwitted Syed Mohammad and Swarupam Purkayastha.

Pace attack effective

Saurashtra sustained the pace attack for almost six and a half hours. With off-spinner Kamlesh Makvana thrown out of the team after being reported for suspect action, and left-arm spinner Dharmendrasingh Jadeja conceding 13 runs in two overs, skipper Jaydev Shah and his on-field standby Cheteshwar Pujara, deployed the pace attack judiciously and reaped dividends. The foursome hardly erred in line and length and their disciplined bowling prevented Assam from taking charge of the proceedings in any of the three sessions.

Assam’s top order did not have the wherewithal to deal with the two left-arm seamers in the first hour, though Pallavkumar Das defended for an hour and 12 minutes before he shuffled across to be trapped plumb in front. Rahul Hazarika nicked to Pujara at first slip and Sharma played all over to be dismissed in a most emphatic way.

It was when the Saurashtra bowlers had their tails up that brought the experienced Verma and Karthick together at 25 for three in the 14th over. They faced the situation with a sense of purpose by showing fine judgment to leave balls, block the good ones and make the most of the deliveries that could be driven, cut or pulled. They added 127 runs in nearly four hours (296 balls) before Rathod got Karthik bowled with an in-swinger.

Saurashtra would most probably claim the second new ball when it will be due in the first quarter of an hour on Sunday, and Assam would hope that its tail will support Verma in order to get some valuable runs.