January 5, 2001

Rao's century sets up solid platform for Rest

Anand Vasu from Mumbai

It was a day of mixed fortune for the visiting England Under-19 side at the MIG Stadium at Mumbai. When the second day's play started, they had the Rest of India Under-19 in a spot of bother at 47/2. With Justin Bishop taking two wickets yesterday, left arm spinner Robert Ferley had ample access to the middle order. That was all the Kent tweaker needed. Giving the ball plenty of air, Ferley extracted good turn from the wicket. If any England bowler looked like picking wickets, it was Ferley.

With 114 on the board, skipper Kashinath Khadkikar (36) was the first to go. Playing a lazy shot at a perfectly pitched Ferley spinner, Khadkikar ended up edging the ball through to Ian Bell at slip. The fall of Khadkikar's wicket pepped the England camp up and there was a spring in their step at once.

Eleven balls later, Rest of India were in trouble at 120/5 with stumper Parthiv Patel being cleaned up for a second ball duck and Gaganinder Singh being caught by Kadeer Ali fielding close to the wicket, the Rest of India middle order threatened to collapse. It was at this time that the unlikely combination of Gnaneshwara Rao and Maninder Singh changed the complexion of the day's play. The pair began by sizing up the bowling, the wicket and state of play. After an extended spell of sensible cricket, Rao began to open up a bit.

At the receiving end of Rao's punishment was Monty Panesar. After bowling tidily to notch up 9 maiden overs, the Sikh left arm spinner lost his way completely. Two overs costing fourteen each saw the ball disappear to all sections of the park and on occasion out of the park even. Panesar ended with figures of none for 59 and the partnership between Rao and Maninder Singh blossomed.

The pair put on 100 for the sixth wicket and looked good for more when Maninder Singh fell. Once again it was the Kadeer Ali-Ferley combination that did the trick. Gaganinder Singh's patient innings of 25 had taken over two and a half hours to compile. Rao however was unstoppable by this stage. Whether it was cutting the mediumpacers or coming down the track to the seamers, Rao was at ease throughout his knock.

When he brought up his hundred, a loud cheer went around the Rest of India dressing room. Spanning 180 balls and studded with 15 hits to the rope and two over the ropes, Rao had staked a serious claim for a place in the Indian team taking on England Under-19 at the Wankhede Stadium next week. After reaching his century, Rao shifted to a higher gear. In the further 26 balls that he faced, Rao clattered the bowling around for 23 runs and added two more boundaries to his tally.

With the score on 321/7 and Rao unbeaten on 123 the innings was declared. Rest of India had a lead of 101 and wanted a crack at the England batsmen. As it turned out, the declaration was a wise one. Mulewa Dharmichand bowled a brilliant spell of offspin (4-3-1-2) to put the visitors on the back foot. A quick arm ball removed the in form Gary Pratt for a duck clean bowled and soon nightwatchman Andrew McGarry paid the price for padding up to a ball heading for the stumps. England were 6/2 and playing for close. Skipper Ian Bell and opener John Sadler saw off the remaining 4 overs without further damage and England were 11/2 at stumps.

The third day's play promises to be an exciting one with the Indian spinners bowling well on a responsive wicket. If the England team can weather the storm, they will go into the Test match with added confidence and vigour.