His eyes following the flight of the ball even as he sprinted from wide mid-on to deep mid-wicket, Jagannathan Kousik emerged with the sphere after a daring dive.
Smit Patel, on 99, stood devastated. Fielders rushed towards Kausik, bowler Washington Sundar appeared relieved.
This was the pivotal moment of day one in the Ranji Trophy Group C duel between Tamil Nadu and Tripura at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium on Saturday. Tripura was 244 for seven at stumps.
Kousik’s athleticism had ended a riveting 162-run fourth wicket partnership in 297 deliveries between Smit (99, 177b, 12x4, 3x6) and Yashpal Singh (96, 190b, 13x4, 1x6).
The impressive Yashpal fell when Ashwin lured him out, fatally, with a lovely delivery of flight, drift and turn.
The duo had lifted Tripura from a wobbly 41 for three in the morning to 203 after Tea when the host struck against the run of play.
Earlier, the rather heavily built Yashpal was light on his feet. He skipped down and eased Ashwin through the covers and timed Sai Kishore for a stunning six over wide long-off.
Consequently, when the length was shortened, Yashpal, who made subtle adjustments to his back-lift, rocked back for the cut. He played the ball late, creating more time and space for strokes behind point.
Smit batted with an uncluttered mind. His fearlessness was reflected in the manner he sashayed down and lofted Ashwin and Rahil Shah over long-off for the maximum.
This quick-thinking, quick-footed batsman employed the cut and the sweep. Smit challenged the bowlers, dominated them.
Inserting Tripura under a cloud-cover, Tamil Nadu struck early through pacemen K. Vignesh and L. Vignesh.
Left-arm spinner Rahil Shah dismissed Rajesh Banik with a telling delivery that spun from middle to hit off. Then came the Tripura fight back.
For Tamil Nadu, Dinesh Karthik joined the side but M. Vijay missed out because of a stiff neck.
The host fielded two extra bowlers to make it an astonishing seven in all by playing debutant left-arm spinner Sai Kishore and pace-bowling all-rounder Kousik.
In conditions conducive to pacemen, Kousik did not get a bowl. Kousik, considered a ‘batting’ all-rounder, had sent down a game-changing spell of 17-11-17-2 against Railways in his last Ranji appearance.
Off-spinner Washington Sundar, given a longer spell this time although he was introduced only around 2 p.m., found some turn, bounce and success.
Paceman K. Vignesh bowled with rhythm, his run-up, load-up and release in harmony. Sai Kishore was tight but spearhead Ashwin was searching for greater bite in his bowling for most part of the day.
Tamil Nadu clawed its way back in the final hour but has plenty of unfinished work.
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