On his Ranji Trophy debut last year, Ashok Menaria reeled off centuries in the three successive knockout matches to star in Rajasthan's unlikely triumph.
The 21-year-old left-handed batsman kick-started his fresh season with a gritty, unbeaten 142 that helped Rajasthan reach a very satisfying 257 for two on the opening day of their Super League Group 'A' tie against the Railways. Menaria and Robin Bist re-built the innings after a shaky start on a Karnail Singh stadium pitch of low bounce where the odd delivery kicked up. And both batsmen found an interesting way to stay focused, asking that their individual scores not be updated on the scoreboard. It worked to a nicety as Bist had grafted to 85 not out at stumps. The third wicket pair has amassed an unbroken 240-run partnership.
If the scoreboard operator did the visiting team a favour, Railways fielders obliged them as well. Experienced seamer JP Yadav bowled Menaria on 11 but he had over-stepped. Bist was dropped by wicketkeeper Mahesh Rawat off seamer Anureet Singh on 10.
The let-offs meant Railways, looking to recover after suffering heavy defeats against Mumbai and Karnataka in the first two matches, had thrown away a bright start despite the absence of left-arm spinner Murali Kartik, away to attend a family function.
Anureet had stand-in skipper Aakash Chopra (0) caught off the third delivery and fellow opener Vinit Saxena (9) was gone in the eighth over, caught behind off JP Yadav. With Rajasthan's regular skipper Hrishikesh Kanitkar out due to a shoulder injury, the visitors looked in trouble.
However, Menaria and Bist made Railways pay for their lapses. The home team was not done yet as Shivakant Shukla at second slip dropped Menaria on 136, after Anureet induced an edge with the second new ball after tea. To his credit, Menaria kept his concentration, played with a straight bat and was patient on the challenging pitch. He has hit 13 fours and two sixes in his five-and-half hour stay. Bist was compact once he settled down, playing neatly square of the wicket in his 271-ball effort. "I had to curb my shots because a new batsman would have found it difficult on this pitch," said Menaria.
He admitted feeling some pressure after a bright debut season, adding: "I asked for my scores to be taken off the board, it helped me focus better."
Railways skipper Sanjay Bangar rued the sloppy effort that could push the team towards the Plate Division. "Crucial chances were missed, and they came in the first session."
Brief scores: Rajasthan 257/2 (Bisht 85*, Menaria 142*, Yadav 1/43) v Railways