Rajkot: A flat deck, a lightning-quick outfield and a favourable toss to boot. Tamil Nadu squandered all these offerings to hand the advantage to Mumbai on the opening day of the Ranji Trophy semi-final here at the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium on Sunday.
Tamil Nadu stuttered at the start by losing both their openers before lunch with just 68 on board, but recovered a bit with a century stand for the third wicket between Kaushik Gandhi and B. Indrajith only to slump again to 261 for six at stumps. With the vulnerable tail being exposed early, all-rounder Vijay Shankar (41 not out) has the unenviable task of guiding TN to a safe first innings total on a batting paradise.
When Indrajith (64) combined well with in-form no. 3 batsman Kaushik (50), the season’s highest scorer for the team, Tamil Nadu had their nose ahead. The way Indrajith pierced the packed off-side field was a delight to watch. He used his feet well against the spinners — Akshay Girap and Vijay Gohil.
The duo milked the Mumbai bowlers in the post-lunch session, but all that good work was undone when Indrajith glanced a wide Shardul Thakur delivery to be caught by the wicketkeeper. The 110-run stand was severed just before tea. After the break, TN lost two more wickets — Kaushik and Dinesh Karthik — within a span of four overs.
Barring Karthik’s dismissal, which was a clear bad decision as the replays suggested, Tamil Nadu batsmen were guilty of playing into the hands of Mumbai. Karthik, who looked solid in his brief stay, was given out lbw by umpire Virender Sharma despite the inswinging ball making contact with the bat before hitting the pad.
Vijay Shankar, who came in at no. 6, was confidence personified. Not bogged down by the extra responsibility of shepherding the tail, Vijay played his natural game. A straight drive to the mid-off fence and a beautiful backfoot punch through covers, in consecutive balls of pacer Balwinder Sandhu, were the highlights of his unbeaten 41 with a healthy strike-rate of 66.13.
Earlier, Tamil Nadu gave maiden first-class cap to Ganga Sridhar Raju in a bid to solve their opening woes. The left-handed Ganga was Abhinav Mukund’s sixth opening partner of the season. It was Mumbai’s talisman Abhishek Nayar, who provided the first breakthrough by removing Ganga for 19. TN would have been in deeper trouble had Siddesh Lad, at first slip, held on to a straightforward catch offered by Kaushik who was yet to get off the mark then.
Abhinav shot himself in the foot by standing deep into the crease. Balwinder, who consistently shaped the ball away from the left-hander, had him caught behind with a fuller length and it was wicketkeeper Aditya Tare’s 200th dismissal in first-class cricket.
Tamil Nadu (1st innings): V. Ganga Sridhar Raju c Tare b Nayar 19, A. Mukund c Tare b Sandhu 38, K. Gandhi c Waghela b Nayar 50, B. Indrajith c Tare b Thakur 64, K. Karthik lbw b Thakur 16, V. Shankar (batting) 41, B. Aparajith c Yadav b Gohil 9, A. Aswin Crist (batting) 9. Extras: (b4, lb4, nb7) 15. Total: (for 6 wkts, in 90 overs) 261.
FoW: 1-45, 2-68, 3-178, 4-188, 5-202, 6-231.
Bowling: Thakur 20-4-64-2, Sandhu 18-5-46-1, Nayar 23-6-56-2, Girap 11-2-34-0, Gohil 18-3-53-1.