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Visitors edge ahead on a gruelling day

india Updated: Jan 13, 2011 23:13 IST
Amol Kharadkar

With the festival of kites - known as Uttarayan in this part of the world - just a day away, the number of Baroda Cricket Association officials, junior cricketers and family members of the players in action, who have dominated the sparse crowd witnessing the Ranji Trophy final, shrunk further than the first two days.

Yet, when Baroda's Sankalp Vohra and Murtuja Vahora walked out of the Motibaug ground at stumps on the third day of the Ranji Trophy final against Rajasthan on Thursday, they probably received the biggest cheer of the season.

And though their team was still trailing Rajasthan's first-innings total of 394 by 70 runs with only last man Bhargav Bhatt to follow, the unbeaten duo, who are used to sharing the new ball, for a moment revelled in the vociferous reception they received.

Even the family members of the Rajasthan players, who were in the minority, joined in the applause.

After all, batsmen No. 9 and 10 had kept the Ranji Trophy final between two of the most unexpected contestants alive after the halfway mark.

The 54 minutes that Vohra and Vahora hung on for could well script the difference between Baroda's sixth and Rajasthan's maiden title. Thanks to their unbeaten 36-run association, the hosts were in it after Deepak Chahar trapped Baroda skipper Pinal Shah in front to leave the hosts reeling at 288 for eight.

But when the two resume on Friday, they would be thinking of carrying on for at least as long as they did on Thursday and moving the scoreboard as close to Rajasthan's total as possible. On a wearing wicket, Baroda have the firepower, especially in spin, to bowl out the visitors again and make a match of it in the second innings.

Prospects of a thrilling finish wouldn't have been there without the character that the teams showed on a day of some intense play.

Rajasthan's Vivek Yadav and Madhur Khatri literally spun a web around overnight batsmen Jaykishan Kolsawala and Kedar Devdhar and stemmed the flow of runs. As result, left-hander Kolsawala edged one off

leggie Yadav to wicketkeeper Rohit Jhalani. In Yadav's next over, a rare long-hop resulted in Devdhar playing it on to the stumps.

In came Ambati Rayudu, Baroda's potential game changer, and started with a crisp cover drive off Khatri, the off-spinner. But moments after surviving a loud run out appeal, he was a bit unlucky to have been ruled lbw off Chahar in the 33rd over of the day, the first bowled by a seamer.

Rajasthan had their nose clearly in front at that stage but Shah's 90-run stand with rookie Aditya Waghmode, who scored a maiden first-class fifty in only his second innings, stemmed the rot.

But after Yadav forced Waghmode into a loose stroke - an off-drive that landed into skipper Hrishikesh Kanitkar's lunging palms - Chahar showed his mettle to put Rajasthan back on top.