Pankaj and Rituraj run through Madhya Pradesh
Madhya Pradesh 256 (Bundela 53, Rameez 54, Rituraj 4-68, Pankaj 4-63) v Rajasthan
Pankaj Singh, 27, has been on the domestic circuit for nine seasons, while Rituraj Singh, 22, had played only nine first-class matches before Rajasthan's Group A game against Madhya Pradesh. The right-arm seamers complemented each other in Jaipur, like they did repeatedly last season, and took four wickets each to dismiss the visitors for 256 on the first day.
Rajasthan could have finished the day in a stronger position had Rameez Khan and Anand Rajan not added 88 for the eighth wicket after MP were 150 for 7.
Pankaj and Rituraj utilised the bowler-friendly conditions after stand-in captain Vineet Saxena chose to field, and they were ably supported by left-arm pacer Aniket Choudhary. Most of the wickets didn't come off exceptional balls; the accuracy of the seamers forced the MP batsmen into committing mistakes. While Naman Ojha and Jalaj Saxena, MP's aggressive batsmen, threw their wickets away by chasing wide balls, the two standout dismissals were those of Zafar Ali and the captain Devendra Bundela.
Both the Singhs hardly got the new ball to swing, but once the senior partner had a word with Rituraj after Ojha's dismissal, the younger Singh started bending his back. The result was some extra bounce, which induced an edge from Ali to the keeper.
In the second session, when Bundela and Rameez Khan had begun to form a partnership, Pankaj struck. Despite bowling an immaculate line and length, Pankaj gone wicketless in his first two spells, but moments after Bundela made his 36th first-class fifty with an edge through the slip cordon, Pankaj managed to get one in sharply and trapped Bundela lbw.
Rajasthan were primed to end MP's innings, but with the blazing sun taking its toll on the three seamers, who had bowled more than 50 overs collectively in the first two sessions, Rameez and Rajan dominated the final session.
The moment the second new ball became available after 80 overs, Saxena gave it to Pankaj, who had been resting while the part-timers were operating. Rituraj had taken three wickets in his first spell, and Pankaj did the same in his last, dismissing Rameez, Rajan and Ishwar Pandey to end MP's innings.
"The wicket did ease out after the early morning moisture evaporated but still, it was commendable on Rituraj and Aniket's part to keep asking questions of batsmen," Pankaj said. "After the kind of first session we had [MP were 90 for 5 at lunch], we would have ideally liked to dismiss them for 200, but nevertheless we have done our job."
Pankaj has been a successful bowler on the domestic circuit for the last five years and has had a bigger role to play in this game after the captain Hrishikesh Kanitkar was sidelined by a calf injury. "We discussed it in the meeting [ahead of the game] that I shall have to bear the additional responsibility of not just leading the bowling attack but also being more involved by interacting with the bowlers more than before. It is expected that it will take time to get accustomed to what a new captain is thinking and we managed it well, I think."
Rituraj was cramping after bowling an eight-over opening spell followed by a nine-over spell either side of lunch. Pankaj then told him to cut back a little. "Since he had bowled a long spell, I asked him to hold himself back a little and bowl in short spells," Pankaj said. "And anyway we had decided to rotate the three of us. As a result, while Rituraj bowled a long first spell up front, I bowled a shorter one and then bowled a seven-over spell after lunch. The more we interact with each other, the better we perform as a team."
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo