Vidarbha 200 for 7 (Wadkar 45, Unadkat 2-26) v Saurashtra
Saurashtra chipped away steadily at Vidarbha on a day of attritional cricket, ending the first day of the Ranji Trophy final in a position of advantage. The defending champions clawed their way to 200 for 7 at stumps, with Saurashtra's bowlers striking every time a partnership threatened to develop into a substantial one.
Vidarbha's position was an improvement from the 139 for 6 spot they found themselves in just after tea, thanks to Akshay Wadkar (45) and Akshay Karnewar (31*) putting together the only 50-plus stand of the innings so far.
When you have runs scored at 2.22 per over in day, and wickets taken once only every 13 overs, it can create the illusion that a day's play has gone without much happening. But the illusion of status quo furthered Saurashtra after they lost the toss. They might have been happier with a couple of more wickets, but they didn't let Vidarbha escape a tight leash. The pitch at the VCA Stadium in Nagpur is expected to aid spinners more as the match goes on, and Vidarbha will rue some of the dismissals.
Jaydev Unadkat set the day up. He took only two wickets, but the second of those accounted for Wasim Jaffer and reduced Vidarbha to 60 for 3. Faiz Fazal had run himself out earlier, and with the top two run-getters gone, the Vidarbha line-up that looked deep at the start of the match, appeared shakier.
Unadkat also removed R Sanjay, caught smartly by Arpit Vasavada who went low and forward at first slip. Fazal was ambling for a second run after getting an inside edge to square leg, expecting the throw to go to the non-striker's end, but he was short of his crease when Chetan Sakariya fired it in flat and hard to the keeper.
The kicker came with Jaffer's wicket. In the first six first-class matches that Unadkat bowled to Jaffer, he had never got him out. That changed in the seventh game, which was the league match between Saurashtra and Vidarbha this season. And when it mattered most, Unadkat delivered. The Saurashtra captain has mastered being comfortable coming over and around the wicket. Going around gives him the advantage of an angle into the right-hander, and when he takes the ball away, the movement is pronounced. It's hard, even if you are Jaffer and are batting on a 1000-plus runs season, to always avoid following the ball.
Unadkat kept it back of a length and jagged it away, Jaffer drove at it with feet static and the keeper accepted a catch to his right gleefully. Unadkat was pumped, running across and thumping the Saurashtra crest on his vest while celebrating.
He had seen Sakariya, his fellow left-arm seamer, come close to taking Jaffer's wicket with a very close shout for lbw when the batsman was on 3, the umpire ruling that there was an inside edge when the ball had swung in late to hit the pads. There was no sound on replays, though.
Jaffer seemed to have settled thereafter, even lifting Dharmendrasinh Jadeja's left-arm spin clean over long-off, until Unadkat returned for his second spell.
The middle order had Mohit Kale, who had made his debut this season and was not brimful of runs. Wadkar had the runs, but not much experience, being in his second season. It was the reverse for Ganesh Satish, who had the experience but not too many runs this year. If one of Jaffer or Fazal had been around, the batting might have not been so diffident, but with both gone, it fell to these three to ensure Fazal's decision to bat first would bear fruit.
The method they adopted was to be cautious above all else. It worked to the extent that they had nuggety partnerships, but it would have borne fruit only if the settling in period had been followed by a phase where runs flowed. Saurashtra never allowed that to happen.
Kale was surprised by a Kamlesh Makvana delivery that bounced more than he expected, gloving a catch to slip. Ganesh was too late in attempting to leave a Prerak Mankad ball just after tea, feathering one behind. And Wadkar will rue the ill-advised cut shot that gave Sakariya his first wicket in the day's final moments.
Wadkar's wicket late in the day meant that the advantage was with Saurashtra. Whether the defending champions can turn that around, or the challengers enforce their position further will make for an interesting second day's play.