The day began on a sombre note for Kerala when its biggest match winner Jalaj Saxena pulled out with a recurring knee injury but skipper Sachin Baby won an important toss under overcast conditions to lift the mood.
Then the Kerala medium pacers exploited the conditions to pick up three early wickets to put Himachal Pradesh under pressure in the first session.
However, an attacking half-century from experienced Rishi Dhawan (58) and a resolute unbeaten 89 from Ankit Kalsi prevented a total domination of the visitors and enabled the host to end the first day at 257 for seven in the Ranji Trophy Elite Group B match at the Atal Bihari Vajpayee stadium on Monday.
Rishi Dhawan and Kalsi made perfect use of the better batting conditions when the sun came out and after the pitch lost its early sting. The duo added 102 runs in quick time for the fifth wicket to lift the host from depths.
Dhawan played positively and attacked both medium pacers and spinners when they offered him width. He hit a flurry of boundaries to quickly complete his fifty while Kalsi after an edgy start settled down to play a much more waiting game.
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Kalsi’s stubbornness was mixed with cautious aggression as he punished erring deliveries from the medium pacers. The left hander also survived a chance when Vinoop induced an edge only to see Jagadeesh grass the chance in the slips when the batsmen was on 71.
Of the three medium pacers, Nidheesh bowled his heart out and beat batsmen with pace. After Basil Thampi started the rut when he had Raghav Dhawan top-edging a pull, Nidheesh took over to have Himachal reeling at 45 for three in the first session.
Nidheesh cleaned up Bains with an inswinger and trapped Chopra in front with another incoming delivery. After losing his rhythm for a while, Nidheesh was back in business as he trapped Dhawan in front to give Kerala the crucial break after the Tea break.
Sandeep Warrier then struck twice in one over with the new ball to reduce Himachal Pradesh to 231 for the loss of seven wickets.
However, tail-ender Jaswal struck a few lusty blows to add useful runs with Kalsi as Himachal ended the day with a respectable total.