Saurashtra batting resilience keeps Rest of India waiting
Down and out, the 2020 Ranji Trophy champions fought back with Saurashtra’s Sheldon Jackson, Arpit Vasavada, skipper Jaydev Unadkat and Prerak Mankad hitting half centuries on Day 3 in Rajkot
Saurashtra looked almost certain to roll over on the third day of the Irani Cup in Rajkot on Monday. Having dismissed Cheteshwar Pujara, the best batsman of the 2020 Ranji Trophy champions, cheaply a second time, Rest of India were looking at the lower order wickets early on.
Eight overs into the day, Saurashtra, bundled out for 98 on Day 1, were 87/5 in the second innings, still 187 runs short of making Rest of India bat again. But the one thing Saurashtra have shown over the last few years is that they don’t easily surrender.
It was the case on Monday too. Skipper Jaydev Unadkat and Prerak Mankad dug in to help Saurashtra wipe out the deficit and take a 92-run lead by stumps. With two days left, it may not amount to much but taking the second innings to 368/8 will be a big boost. Unadkat was unbeaten on 78 (116b, 8x4, 2x6).
Saurashtra’s fightback was built on four half-centuries and two century partnerships. It has given them hope, however slim at this point. With the pitch cracking up, if they manage to extend their lead beyond 150, they might fancy their chances of bringing Rest of India under pressure.
The architects of their improved showing were Sheldon Jackson (71—117b, 8x4, 3x6), Arpit Vasavada (55—127b, 9x4), Unadkat and Mankad (72—83b, 9x4).
The resistance started with No 6 Jackson and Vasavada, who have dug Saurashtra out of trouble many times over the years and were the top scorers when they won their maiden Ranji Trophy in 2020. Jackson scored 809 runs that season and Vasavada 763 runs, capped by a century in the win over Bengal in the final.
The two shared in a 117-run stand for the sixth wicket off 212 balls to resurrect the innings. Mukesh Kumar, the Bengal bowler who was the most successful for Rest of India in Saurashtra’s first innings, finally broke the partnership by having Jackson caught by Saurabh Kumar. Soon after, Vasavada too fell, trapped leg before by Kumar’s left-arm spin (3/80).
With Saurashtra down to 215/7, it looked like the resistance had finally ended. RoI must have thought they could steamroll their opponents and cruise to an innings win/ That wasn’t to be as the seventh-wicket stand between Unadkat and Mankad—144 from 177 balls—gave them the lead which had at one point looked a distant dream.
Starting the day at 49/2, Saurashtra caved in. Fast bowler Kuldeep Sen (3/85) wreaked havoc by dismissing Chirag Jani (6—23b), Pujara 1(9b) and Dharmendrasinh Jadeja (25—22b).
First, Sen found a gap in Jani's defence to castle him and then had one rising off a good length which Pujara could only edge to wicketkeeper KS Bharat. That type of dismissal has become synonyms with Pujara in Test over the last couple of years and the problem seems to persist. The Madhya Pradesh pacer then had Jadeja caught by Abhimanyu Easwaran.