Saurashtra spin out MP, take big lead
Saurashtra 242 (Vasavada 54, Jackson 53, Makvana 51, Pandey 3-43) and 18 for 1 lead Madhya Pradesh 135 (Ojha 44, Joshi 3-17, Unadkat 3-20, D Jadeja 3-51) by 125 runs
Before this game started, Saurashtra's only chance of achieving the outright win that would take them to the quarter-finals was believed to be their spin attack, considered to be better than Madhya Pradesh's. Despite the absence of Ravindra Jadeja and Nayan Doshi, the trio of Kamlesh Makvana, Vishal Joshi and debutant Dharmendrasinh Jadeja showed why that belief was right, earning a first-innings lead of 107. MP's dismal batting means they too will now have to push for an improbable victory, when a first-innings lead would have sufficed.
As was the case on day one, the new ball was productive, with Jaydev Unadkat taking three wickets, including those of Devendra Bundela and Jalaj Saxena in inspired, extended spells of 6-3-7-2 and 6-3-13-1 on either side of lunch. Unadkat had earlier made 20 of the 30 runs he and Makvana added for the last wicket, and carried that confidence into his bowling.
The difference between the two sides, however, was the quality of spinners, and the way they were played. There wasn't a lot of turn from the dry Khandheri pitch, contrary to what was being expected by both sides before the start of the match. Still, Saurashtra's spinners created chances, half-chances and plenty of excitement among the close-in fielders regularly. While MP's spinners had been content with cutting down the runs, allowing the opposition to recover from 94 for 5, Saurashtra's bowled a fuller length, drew the batsmen forward, put in more effort and flight in their deliveries, and generated more bounce. Also, while Saurashtra's batsmen were prepared to grind it out and wait for runs, MP's batsmen kept going for their strokes despite the situation demanding some caution.
The initial incisions were made by Unadkat. Bowling flat out, he got the sort of lift and zip that had eluded Ishwar Pandey and Anand Rajan in the morning. Saxena did not help MP's cause by flailing and getting beaten a couple of times outside off. Despite his partner Naman Ojha walking over for a word, Saxena proceeded to play the hook, on the hop, to an Unadkat bouncer, only to be caught at square leg. Rameez Khan played a sharp length delivery from the crease, and lost his off stump, which took such a blow it had to be replaced.
Then came the most crucial part of the innings as MP's best batsmen, Bundela and Ojha, fought. Unadkat reared a short delivery up at Bundela's throat first ball, which the MP captain defended. The next ball was pitched up, produced an edge, but fell short of the cordon. Bundela responded with a clip to the deep-midwicket boundary.
Ojha, a free-flowing batsman, took on spin soon after it was introduced in the 13th over, as he stepped out to lift left-arm spinner Jadeja over mid-on and mid-off. As lunch approached and Ojha continued leaving his crease and lofting the ball, Saurashtra already had a sweeper cover, long-off and long-on for him.
Unadkat was at it again soon after lunch though. In the second over after the break, he zipped one across Bundela, which the batsmen could only edge on its way to the keeper. MP were now 57 for 3 and soon slipped to 73 for 4 when Ojha dragged a sweep into the keeper's gloves down the leg side off Joshi.
This was when the difference in the spin attack started to show. The tall Jadeja, the second-highest wicket-taker in the Under-25 CK Nayudu Trophy, put in a lot of work on the ball with an action that had him pivoting on the front foot like the classical spinners of old. He was accurate too, and after some time, had Satyam Choudhary and Udit Birla edging for an alert Shitanshu Kotak at slip to take his 101st and 102nd first-class catches. MP continued to sink, with Harpreet Singh slashing Makvana to second slip, a very sharp chance held nonchalantly by Rahul Dave. Similar chances had gone down in the Saurashtra innings.
Unlike the Saurashtra lower order, the MP tail showed absolutely no fight. Anand Rajan drove at a flighted Joshi delivery and was bowled, Ishar Pandey slogged his first ball to midwicket, and Ajay Rajput his second to extra cover.
Once again, when they needed to fire in a crunch game, MP came up short. They had batted poorly in the first innings of their quarter-final against Mumbai in the previous season and, this year, had also lost a thriller to them in the previous round.
MP did send back Sheldon Jackson in the third over of Saurashtra's second innings, but Pandey's length ball barely got above the ankles. MP, who have to bat last, wouldn't have liked that.
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo