February 13, 2002

Harbhajan Singh dazzles Baroda in semi-final tie

Staff Reporter
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Baroda may be Ranji Trophy champions in the running for their second successive title. They may also be playing on their home ground coming off a resounding win over Hyderabad. But on the first day of their semi-final against Punjab, they belied those appearances, putting in a poor batting display that will handicap them in the remaining four days.

Batting first on a home pitch must have been a pleasant scenario for Baroda, but only Ajit Bhoite was able to capitalise on it. Quarter-final giants Connor Williams and Jacob Martin only managed 13 and 7 respectively, and, aside from Bhoite, Nayan Mongia was the only batsman to cross the 20-run mark.

Bhoite seemed to play on an entirely different pitch. Making 85 off 103 balls, he struck boundaries with consummate ease, hitting 11 fours and four sixes in his knock. He had to bat, for the large part, with an unsteady tail, but he did it well, succumbing only as the 10th wicket, with the score on 222, after a stalwart innings.

For the visitors, Harbhajan Singh was the most successful bowler, unleashing his bag of tricks to take 4-68 off 25 overs. Amit Uniyal took 3-77 off 20.2 overs.

Baroda's bowlers, however, did not take the situation lying down. Four batsmen were back in the pavilion with the scoreboard reading 39, three of them falling to a Zaheer Khan keenly hoping to catch the eye of the national selectors for a recall to the Indian team.

The situation stabilised somewhat after Zaheer was taken out of the attack, and Dinesh Mongia and Vikram Rathour then put on 56 runs for the fifth wicket. Punjab went in at stumps on 95/4, with Mongia and Rathour on 36 and 16 respectively.

After a bad start, Punjab will be hoping to regroup enough on the second day to garner a sizeable first-innings lead. Given Baroda's relatively small score, that should not be too difficult if the current pair get stuck in, and Baroda's bowlers will have to do their best if their side is to retain the title this season.