Runs galore at Rajkot

EVEN by Rajkot's standards it was an unusually high-scoring match. Four batsmen, all left-handers, scored hundreds.

G. VISWANATH

EVEN by Rajkot's standards it was an unusually high-scoring match. Four batsmen, all left-handers, scored hundreds. The Race Course Road venue has a reputation of aiding batsmen to run into form. Many Indian first-class batsmen have taken heavy toll of the bowlers here. Wasim Jaffer started his Ranji Trophy career with a triple century some years ago. An opening batsman who plays with a straight bat and `plays himself in' has rarely been disappointed and rarely found a big score eluding him.

Sadagopan Ramesh dispatches Daniel Vettori to the fence on way to his century. — Pic. VIVEK BENDRE-

The India `A'-New Zealand encounter began with a steadfast century by Mark Richardson. His team-mate Jacob Oram followed him and thereafter the home team's Sadagopan Ramesh and Hemang Badani returned the compliments. While Richardson, Oram and Ramesh were fit and took control of the proceedings when they were in the middle, Badani emulated them with a broken hand. That made his feat all the more creditable.

Fast bowlers were driven and the spinners lifted out of the ground many times. Yet, for all the action dominated by the batsmen, the venue was not at all a flat track. Dhiraj Parsana, who prepared the pitch, left a plenty of grass on it and predicted that the ball would travel quickly, the fast and medium-pace bowlers in either team would revel bowling on it and they would be encouraged by the bounce. He was not off the mark. Daryl Tuffey, who bowled 31 overs in many spells, said he was surprised to see a hard and grassy surface. A national selector persuaded the authorities to cut the grass on the eve of the three-day match. The staging association was adamant and did not remove a blade of it.

Hemang Badani raises his bat after scoring a brilliant hundred. -- Pics. VIVEK BENDRE-

The Black Caps were delighted to see more than a tinge of green in the centre pitch. They had arrived in Rajkot, having bowled many overs to Akash Chopra and Yuvraj Singh at Visakhapatnam, went through their routine, but a hard work-out and immediately complimented the local association for providing superb practice facilities. They did not let the heat and humidity affect them, but captain Stephen Fleming said the pitch looked a good wicket for batting. His counterpart, Mohammad Kaif, felt the same.

For a particular reason the match had raised more than ordinary interest. That was because of the presence of three tyros in the India `A' team in Munaf Patel, Rudra Pratap Singh and Sree Santh. Hailing from Gujarat's Bharuch district, the tall and strapping Patel had the sort of build-up for the match that many expected him to knock the top order of the Black Caps batsmen in his opening spell. He was anxious to produce results in his maiden first-class match. He beat the openers a few times, but never really looked menacing.

New Zealand opener Mark Richardson handled the India `A' attack with ease during his knock of 128. -- Pics. VIVEK BENDRE-

Things changed dramatically in the second session of the first day's play that started on time even though a shower the previous evening had rendered a part of the outfield wet. Patel sent back Fleming, Scott Styris and Nathan Astle and the New Zealand innings slid from a position of strength. It was from here that Richardson took control. By stumps on the first day he had made 128 (381 mts, 304 balls, 18x4, 1x6) making a slow start in the first hour and then handling the India `A' attack with ease. He played some lovely shots in front of the wicket and through covers. "I have a sort of technique that helps me to play the spinners well," he said.

Richardson's ally was Oram, who made an impact straightaway with a big six off Ramesh and hoisting Murali Kartik out of the ground. He ended the first day with eight boundary hits and never looked in trouble on his way to his second first-class century. He packed power behind his shots and was largely responsible for keeping India `A' on the field until the time Fleming applied the closure of his team's innings.

Jacob Oram packed power behind his shots to score his second first-class century. — Pics. VIVEK BENDRE-

The Black Caps spent almost the entire duration of the remaining part of the match on the field and bowled 132 overs to dismiss the opposing team. The highlight of the Indian reply was a 164-run start with Ramesh taking the bowling apart in a cool and calculated manner and scoring a very impressive 110 (275m, 206b, 19x4). He was given out caught at the wicket, but the left-hander gave the impression that the ball had touched his shoulder before travelling to wicketkeeper Robbie Hart.

Munaf Patel is delighted after getting rid of Scott Styris. Patel took five wickets in the match. — Pics. VIVEK BENDRE-

Chopra carried on from where he had left at Visakhapatnam. There were quite a few streaky shots in the early part of his innings, but it was while leaving the ball outside the off-stump and when facing Tuffey that he looked good in judging the line. After the exit of Ramesh, the Kiwis managed to send back Connor Williams, Kaif and Rohan Gavaskar, but Badani took the centre-stage for well over four and a half hours and kept the rival bowling at bay. It was not a chanceless knock (127, 284mts, 189 balls, 16x4, 2x6) from the Tamil Nadu batsman, but in the circumstances in which he batted (with a fracture near the wrist of his leading hand), he deserved all praise.

Lou Vincent is annoyed with himself after being bowled by Murali Kartik. — Pic. VIVEK BENDRE-

India `A' took a small lead of 28 runs and further rubbed it on the visiting side, taking four wickets in 23 overs. Bowling without pressure, Patel looked a completely different bowler. There's no doubt he has the talent, but a full season in the coming Ranji Trophy matches and getting into the habit of taking wickets only should make him a better bowler in the future.

The scores:

New Zealanders 375 for seven decl. (M. H. Richardson 128 (retired hurt), S. P. Fleming 27, C. D. McMillan 30, J. D. P. Oram 101 not out, M. Patel three for 83) and 68 for four (L. Vincent 28 not out) drew with India A 403 (A. Chopra 66, S. Ramesh 110, H. K. Badani 127, D. Tuffey three for 70, D. Vettori three for 96).