Pitch makes life hard for Saurashtra, MP
Saurashtra 212 for 9 (Vasavada 54, Jackson 53, Pandey 3-37) v Madhya Pradesh
Going by day one, the Rajkot pitch confounded both sides, who were expecting it to turn early, and turn big. In the end, the innate slow nature of the pitch didn't allow that. The lack of watering and rolling of the pitch over the last two days, in the presence of a BCCI curator, somehow added variable, largely low, bounce to the mix. Slow and mostly low made batting difficult for Saurashtra, who conceded whatever advantage winning the toss had given them by losing nine wickets.
Devendra Bundela, the MP captain, had walked back after the toss with a wry smile on, fearing the worst, especially given the presence of Cheteshwar Pujara in the Saurashtra line-up. At that time, MP would have grabbed an opposition scoreline of 212 for 9 with both hands. Ultimately, despite abandoning their favoured three-quicks policy for another specialist spinner - a debutant who was to be called twice for a suspect action - it was the crack fast-bowling pair of Ishwar Pandey and Anand Rajan who delivered the early blows for MP. Saurashtra never quite made up for that initial damage of 37 for 3, and despite fifties from Sheldon Jackson and Aarpit Vasavada, the day easily belonged to the visitors.
Rajan struck as early as the last ball of his first over, the day's second, when he had the veteran Shitanshu Kotak lbw on the forward defensive. Kotak had already been put down by the wicketkeeper Naman Ojha, diving in front of first slip, in Pandey's opening over.
Pujara batted with the supreme confidence an in-form Test batsman takes into first-class cricket, but he was a bit too positive, and in trying to on-drive Pandey, he gave a tame catch to midwicket when on 10. The ball had stopped on Pujara; the stroke was not on given the nature of the pitch. Pandey earned the next wicket through sheer pace, zipping a good length delivery through the captain Jaydev Shah's defences. Both Pujara and Jaydev departed with quizzical glances at the pitch.
Spin had already been introduced in the seventh over, and was to account for 65 of the day's 90 overs. However, it was to play largely a holding role, though the spinners did take five wickets. The turn was slow, and even if batsmen were beaten in the flight, they could play off the back foot. Pitched-up deliveries were patted away from the crease. Bundela attacked throughout with two to three close-in fielders, but the one takeable chance that came their way was put down at short leg off Jackson, Jalaj Saxena the bowler to suffer.
Jackson went for his shots, and rode his luck to make 53. Consecutive thick edges flew to gully off Ankit Sharma, but could not be held on. He steered Rajan dangerously through the slip cordon. But he probably also showed the way to score on this pitch, hitting several boundaries behind point. He chose to cut the part-time left-arm spinner Rameez Khan's second delivery in the last over before lunch, and was bowled. Saurashtra ended the first session on 94 for 5, and from that position to go past 200 was in itself an achievement.
Vasavada, and later Kamlesh Makvana, were responsible for that, with sensible, defensive knocks that were in stark contrast to the way Chirag Jani lost his head, charging out to Ankit, and getting stumped. Despite Saurashtra's resistance, MP were never far away from striking, as seven partnerships worth between 22 and 38 showed. Vasavada eventually went on his 181st ball, bowled by an Ankit delivery that spun in sharply from outside off, one of the very few that did.
The second new ball did nothing for MP, but before that Pandey displayed his versatility by trapping Vishal Joshi in front with a full delivery. Saurashtra ended a disappointing day on a disappointing note as No. 10 and debutant Dharmendra Jadeja stepped out and holed out to mid-off, the second time in the day Saurashra had given a wicket to the part-timer Rameez, off what turned out to be the last deliveries of the respective sessions.
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo