What started off as a promising duel on a pitch that looked decisive has tilted in favour of an intense affair for the first innings lead at the Maharashtra Cricket Association stadium.
Despite the Railways almost having crossed the follow-on mark, at the end of the penultimate day, the initiative still wrested with host Maharashtra in the Ranji Trophy Group A match.
At the end of a gruelling, at times mundane, day's play, Railways was placed at 330 for five, still 151 runs adrift Maharashtra's first innings total of 481. If the unbeaten pair of seasoned Arindam Ghosh and young all-rounder Manish Rao sees off the early morning dew, Railways can hope to keep its hopes of a knockout berth – and end Maharshtra's – by garnering three points for the lead.
The day started on an entertaining note, with Maharashtra springing an element of surprise by throwing the ball to off-spinner Chirag Khurana in the second over. And the move worked, with Khurana breaking the left-handed opening combination by trapping Saurabh Wakaskar in front of the wickets.
A left-hander was replaced with another lefty, Pratham Singh. The lanky debutante started off on a confident note, hitting crisp drives off the pacers. Shivakant Shukla, meanwhile, perished just after the hour's mark, with paceman Pradeep Dadhe inducing an edge off the batsman's willow to Rohit Motwani behind the wicket.
As the weekend crowd came in, the spectators witnessed the most interesting passage of play for the next two and a half hours. While Nitin Bhille played the pacers with little trouble and drove with finesse, Singh remained shaky in the channel but made amends whenever the bowlers erred on the fuller or shorter side.
Moments after he crossed his fifty, Singh was dropped by wicketkeeper Rohit Motwani off Nikit Dhumal. Bhille then wasted an opportunity of converting his fifty into a big score, offering Chirag Khurana a regulation catch at covers to hand left-arm pacer Mukesh Choudhary his maiden first-class wicket.
With seasoned Arindam Ghosh for company, Singh continued to frustrate the home team. It required Khurana's magic with the ball again to get rid of Singh as Motwani pouched a thick-edge off his willow just before tea.
Dhumal was finally rewarded with the second new ball as skipper Mahesh Rawat edged him straight to Naushad Shaikh, who held on to it off the second attempt at second slip. Ghosh and Rao then avoided further damage till the stumps were drawn. Come Sunday morning, and the duo will have to start scoring runs as well.
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