Panchal’s record fifth century puts Gujarat in pole position

Gujarat’s Priyank Panchal (393m, 252b, 21 x 4s) showed qualities required of an opening batsman -- mostly the skill and judgment to leave the ball, intellect, patience and capacity -- to put his team in a good position on the opening day of the Ranji Trophy semifinal against Jharkhand.

Priyank Panchal celebrates upon reaching his century as his Gujarat skipper applauds in the background.   -  pti

Gujarat’s Priyank Panchal (393m, 252b, 21 x 4s) showed qualities required of an opening batsman -- mostly the skill and judgment to leave the ball, intellect, patience and capacity -- to put his team in a good position on the opening day of the Ranji Trophy semifinal against Jharkhand, at the Vidarbha Cricket Association (VCA) stadium here at Civil Lines.

The right hander opened the innings with Samit Gohil after skipper Parthiv Patel won the toss, batted right through the day -- six hours and thirty three minutes -- to make an unconquered 144 in Gujarat’s first innings score of 283 for three.

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When on 110, he was let off by Ishant Jaggi at slip of seamer Rahul Shukla; otherwise it was a near-flawless knock from Panchal who became the first Gujarat batsman to score five centuries in a Ranji Trophy season. He also went past Wasim Jasffer’s total of 1,260, until Sunday evening the fourth highest championship aggregate in a season after V.V.S.Laxman, Shreyas Iyer and Vijay Bharadwaj.

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Once action began on Sunday morning in a slightly hazy atmosphere and with Ajay Yadav and left-arm seamer Vikash Singh operating with the new ball, the odds favoured the Gujarat opening pair in Gohil and Panchal who not only showed sound technique to leave the ball that was slanted away by Vikash, but also excellence in playing with the straight bat.

Quickly spotting the error in length by Vikash, Panchal dispatched two boundary shots towards mid-wicket, and soon Gohil struck clean strokes on the offside of Yadav.

It was the first day of a five-day match and the opening pair realised the importance of staying at the wicket. They showed a resolute approach against the new ball that Jharkhand’s Yadav and Vikash came up short a little. Anything short on the off side was cut away or punched to the square point fence and Panchal showed a distinct proclivity to rock on to his back foot and put the ball away between point and gully.

When he hit Vikash straight down the ground for a four, he gave the first evidence of seeing the ball big and the reason for his good form through the season.

Gohil hit his third four after a gap of one and a quarter hours, and when he seemed to have sized up the pitch he offered a chance to Virat Singh at gully who held a dipping catch. After the fall of Gohil in the 19th over, Bhargav Merai gave no respite for the Jharkhand bowlers. He rotated the strike and stayed beside the line to hammer shots towards the backward point area. The second wicket added 65 runs in one and half hours before Merai nicked Vikash to the young `keeper Ishan Kishan.

The arrival of skipper Patel (62, 115b, 6 x 4, 1 x 6) only accelerated the run rate, as the left hander launched crisp drives through the covers. A busy batsman always, Patel dominated the third wicket stand that delivered 139 runs. He was severe on left arm spinner Shahbaz Nadeem, who, along with off-spinner Kaushal Singh, was not able to extract any turn or bounce on a first day pitch.

The left hander fell leg before to Kaushal, but his ability to keep the score board ticking resulted in his side raising 91 runs in the third session of the day.

Jharkhand claimed the second new ball after 85 overs and when play could not be extended beyond 5 P. M. because of the opening day playing conditions, two more overs could not be bowled to complete the quota of 90 overs.

But, Gujarat was pleased to see Panchal returning unbeaten.