Ranji Trophy: Shaikh century puts Maharashtra on top

Naushad Shaikh’s maiden and unbeaten century arrested Maharashtra’s slide against Rajasthan in its Ranji Trophy group B match at the Rajiv Gandhi international cricket stadium here on Thursday. Reeling at 40 for two in the first hour itself, Shaikh combined with Ankit Bawne to rescue his side and close the opening day at a respectable 280 for three.

Naushad Shaikh scored his maiden century and is unbeaten on 118.   -  G.Ramakrishna

Naushad Shaikh’s maiden and unbeaten century (118, 18 x 4, 1 x 6) arrested Maharashtra’s slide against Rajasthan in its Ranji Trophy group B match at the Rajiv Gandhi international cricket stadium here on Thursday. Reeling at 40 for two in the first hour itself, Shaikh combined with Ankit Bawne to rescue his side and close the opening day at a respectable 280 for three.

Maharashtra chose to bat first but Rajasthan’s pacemen had it on the back foot soon enough. Newly inducted skipper Pankaj Singh drew first blood for the northern side, having Murtaza Trunkwala, centurion in the last match against Saurashtra at Vizianagaram, caught by second slip Manender Singh.

Trunkwala’s partner Swapnil Gugale was caught behind by Chetan Bist off left-arm medium pacer Tanvir Ul-Haq not much later. The Maharashtra skipper, who had agonisingly declared close to a world record against Delhi, perhaps had difficulty stepping out of the shadows of the triple century he registered on that Herculean endeavour.

In three innings since that mammoth effort, Gugale has struggled to post sizeable scores, undone perhaps by his anxiety to deliver for team and self. Rajasthan meanwhile had struck two vital blows, removing the rival side’s openers well before the fatal first hour had ended.

The third wicket pair of Shaikh and Bawne countered the early setbacks, the former undaunted by the opposition’s pacy attack and negotiating it well. Bawne, a double centurion in the monumental, near record breaking endeavour with his skipper Gugale against Delhi, also got into the scoring act but not before restoring stability to the batting wracked by two substantial losses.

By lunch, the pair had seen its side to 103 without further damage. At the end of the second session, Maharashtra had advanced to 205 for two, Bawne outpacing his partner and placed at 82 while Shaikh was at 70. By then Bawne had cleared the boundary twice and had 10 hits to the rope. Not much later, Bawne was gloved by Bist off Pankaj Singh.

Shaikh carried on nonetheless, more than making up for his slack form with the bat earlier in the season. The Osmanabad native lived up to the faith reposed in him by his captain in sending him one down and stroked freely to all parts of the ground. At first his boundaries were scored mostly on the off side. Over time, he grew in confidence and his on-side play matched that of his off.

Rahul Tripathi played with caution, his 19 runs coming off 43 balls and containing two fours. As vice-captain, he didn’t venture into anything fancy, content to see the side through to safety at 280 for three when stumps were drawn.