Jackson keeps Saurashtra steady
Saurashtra 272 for 5 (Jackson 83) v Karnataka
All the pre-match talk had centred on how the pitch would behave at the Saurashtra University Ground in Rajkot. With no first-class matches played at the venue so far, neither captain knew how the track would behave. The ground had been used so little that even the scorers didn't know what the two bowling ends are called, and the Karnataka manager wondered whether it would be an under-prepared wicket.
All those worries proved unfounded as though the outfield was a bit bumpy and the dressing rooms were pretty basic, the surface had little in it to trouble the batsmen, and Karnataka's bowlers struggled to maintain any sustained pressure through the day. Still, they managed to prise out five wickets and kept Saurashtra to 272 for 5, a total that will not worry the visitors too much.
Sheldon Jackson, the 26-year-old batsman who has finally established himself in the Ranji side this season nearly seven years after making his domestic one-day debut, made his fifth fifty-plus score of the campaign to lead Saurashtra's effort. He pounced on the many short balls offered to him by the spinners, regularly picking boundaries with powerful cut shots. When the quicks pitched it short, he was quick to pull, as he showed Abhimanyu Mithun in the first over after lunch.
After tea, with the sun out, a pleasant breeze blowing across the ground, and Jackson's partnership with Aarpit Vasavada for the fifth wicket nearing a century, Saurashtra's batsmen had little to worry about. Jackson himself was closing in on his second hundred for the season, and with KP Appanna bowling defensively at his pads with six men on the leg-side, a bit of patience would have got him there. Instead, he swung Appanna towards wide long-off; Lokesh Rahul sprinted back and to his left from mid-on and with the high ball swirling in the wind, completed a superbly judged tumbling catch that had the entire Karnataka team running towards him in joy.
It was Rahul's fourth catch of the day, and sucked the momentum out of the innings for the final 45 minutes of the day. Vasavada remained unbeaten on 49, shelving the strokes he displayed before Jackson's dismissal to ensure Saurashtra lost only five wickets on the day.
For most parts of the day, Saurashtra's batsmen were comfortable in the middle. Their most important player, Cheteshwar Pujara, who delivered victory in their must-win final league match last week with an aggressive double-century began in the same vein today. He took Stuart Binny for 14 in the over before the first drinks break, with two cuts behind point and a whip off the pads. He had sprinted to 37 off 48 when he flicked K Gowtham to leg slip, to the elation of Karnataka's fielders.
The day's play took place with the players aware that India's ODI squad for the England series would be picked in the evening, with Pujara and perhaps Mithun standing a chance of selection. Pujara had only a cameo role, after Mithun provided one for the highlight reel by breaking Sagar Jogiani's off stump into two in the ninth over of the day. Mithun returned to get the wicket of captain Jaydev Shah as well, who poked a catch to gully.
The other opener was Saurashtra's most experienced player, Shitanshu Kotak, who played a typically patient innings, leaving plenty outside off. He used his feet well against the spinners, skipping down the track often as he progressed to 46 before he too gave a catch to Rahul.
It was a day both teams won't complain too much about, and with the pitch playing true on the first day, the focus over the next few days will shift to the actual cricket instead of the nature of the surface.
Siddarth Ravindran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo