Ranji Trophy final: Akash Deep pegs Saurashtra on the back foot
Trust Niranjan Shah— the 75-year old patron of Saurashtra cricket—to bring some noise to the Ranji final, played in front of empty stands. Thanks to him, an old-fashioned music band—the kind seen in local Navratri celebrations—was summoned to the ground ahead of the first day’s play. But once the home captain, Jaydev Unadkat, won the toss and chose to bat first, the first session of play went along expected lines. Saurashtra’s openers, Harvik Desai and Avi Barot, saw off the initial movement which lasted all of two overs and then the forward-defences and cover-drives started occurring regularly.
Bengal’s vastly improved pacer, Ishan Porel, got a few balls to rise and miss the outside edges of the openers’ bats. But on a batting wicket—possibly curated to negate the in-form fast bowling trio of Porel, Akash Deep and Mukesh Kumar—Shahbaz Ahmed’s left-arm-spin had to be introduced as early as the seventh over of the innings.
On the eve of the final, Bengal head coach Arun Lal had spoken of the secret behind his bowling group’s success this season, and their ability to pull together six good balls in an over. “You need special batting ability like a Pujara to handle that, when runs are not coming,” he had said.
Bengal’s bowling discipline was going to come in handy on a warm day. They did not let their shoulders droop when the going was slow and difficult, and continued to produce that odd ball to rear off a pitch that was fast becoming unpredictable and two-paced.
Porel took only one wicket but bent his back all day. Mukesh, the medium-pacer whose six-for put Bengal into the final, put in yet another honest day’s work while Akash Deep produced the wicket-taking deliveries.
At the same time, Bengal’s shoddy fielding ensured that the bowlers had to toil harder as both openers were put down in the morning session and Saurashtra went to lunch at 77/0. Spinner Ahmed was the first to strike, getting Desai to prod at one and silly point did the rest to finish the promising innings on 38. Then Akash Deep finally got his reward, dismissing Barot— who played half forward to a full length delivery and was caught behind—for a well made 54.
Ahmed then plugged the scoring, bowling at the batsman’s blind spot until left-hander Arpit Vasavda walked in at No.4 to negate his angle. Soon after, Viswaraj Jadeja managed to break the shackles with three back-to-back boundaries of an Ahmed over, the 58th of the innings. The second session gave Saurashtra 80 runs for the loss of the openers.
The runs were at a premium but the home side took solace in the fact that Pujara was yet to bat. The Test mainstay, however, walked in at No.6 and retired from his innings after just 24 balls. The reason for both occurrences was the same. “He felt ill last night,” Saurashtra skipper Unadkat said later. “He was feeling feverish because of a throat infection.”
Jadeja too lost his wicket for 54, bowled by Akash Deep after leaving a gap between bat and pad. Sheldon Jackson was the next to go, missing a Porel in-swinger that kept low. And Saurashtra was 182/4 when Pujara walked in and soon walked out, retired hurt. This forced Chetan Sakariya to play the nightwatchman’s role, but that didn’t last long after Akash Deep dismissed him for 4 runs and Saurashtra were wobbling at 206/5 at stumps. The hosts still have Pujara undismissed, but the fear remains that he could well run out of partners.
Poor wicket: Lal
Lal later said he was unimpressed by the pitch. “It is a very poor wicket. The ball is not coming on to the bat and keeping low on Day 1 itself,” said Lal. “The BCCI should look at this.”
Jaydev Shah, president of SCA, was dismissive of Lal’s comments. “Only one wicket was lost when Saurashtra’s 100 came up. It’s a good, fighting wicket.”