In a must-win game for Kerala, Pondicherry put up an inspired show to end the opening day of the Ranji Trophy match at 253 for four at the Siechem Ground here on Tuesday.
The visitor frittered away its early advantage as Pondicherry preyed on Kerala’s hapless bowling through an unbeaten 151-run partnership between Paras Dogra (117 n.o., 254b, 11x4) and Arun Karthick (65 n.o., 109b, 5x4, 1x6).
While Dogra became the third batter in the history of the Ranji Trophy to score 30 or more hundreds, Karthick, Pondicherry’s top run-scorer this season, continued his rich vein of form as the duo turned the day on its head.
After inserting Pondicherry, Kerala pacers Basil Thampi (one for 42) and M.D. Nidheesh (one for 34) found success early with contrasting methods.
The ball flew off the edges as Thampi found movement in the air. Neyan Kangayan was reprieved at second slip off the second ball of the day when he poked outside off. A couple of deliveries later, Thampi shaped one in and induced Kangayan’s inside edge on the way to the wicketkeeper.
Meanwhile, Nidheesh preferred to hold his length back and, with some awkward bounce, got Pondicherry skipper D. Rohit, who skied a straightforward catch to mid-off off a leading edge.
While Thampi and Nidheesh kept Jay Pande (38, 128b, 2x4) and Sagar Udeshi on a leash with a persistent line outside off-stump and the occasional bouncer, Kerala’s trump card Jalaj Saxena (one for 51) broke through. He tested Udeshi’s patience with 12 consecutive dot balls before inviting a slog sweep, which was pouched by square-leg off a top edge.
With three men down for 19 in less than an hour, Pande and Dogra hunkered down. Perhaps too complacent after their early-morning success, the Kerala bowlers helped them in the process. The pacers strayed too straight and then resorted to the short stuff with a short-leg in place, waiting for an indiscretion. Debutant Vishweshar Suresh, picked over off-spinner Vaisakh Chandran – Kerala’s second-highest wicket-taker this season – didn’t put his proverbial best foot forward. He started off with two consecutive no-balls before making it four by the end of his 10-run first over.
Not before long, the leg-stump line ploy of the quicks debilitated into half-volleys down the leg-side, some of which were clipped off the pads to the boundary. Spinners Saxena and Sijomon Joseph (one for 41) often overpitched and Dogra and Pande, despite the intermittent nurdles off the thighs, picked the lengths well.
Pande’s dismissal came against the run of play when he played a quick length ball on the backfoot only to see his off-stump rattled. Karthick was more forthcoming, meeting the ball on the front-foot. He gave Saxena the charge and deposited him for a four at square-leg for his first scoring shot. Karthick struck the only six of the day at the stroke of Tea before notching up a 75-ball fifty with a cheeky tickle off the pads for four.
Taking a cue, Dogra too upped the ante. His lanky frame is given to a languid grace, particularly on the drive and the cut through the off-side. But on Tuesday, a pick-up shot to the midwicket boundary and his forceful drives down the ground were punctuated with a listlessness that didn’t rudely snap the viewer from the afternoon slumber on a slow-burn, low-scoring day of cricket.
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