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Amol Karhadkar in Rajkot
January 16, 2013
Saurashtra 274 for 5 (Shah 87, Jackson 70*, Kotak 54) v Punjab
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Palam in Delhi may have been stealing much of the attention in what is being termed as the sequel to David versus Goliath of this Ranji Trophy season, with Services taking on Mumbai after having surprised Uttar Pradesh in the quarter-finals. However, the television cameras were in place at the Khandheri stadium on the outskirts of Rajkot, with hosts Saurashtra taking on Punjab. And except for the pitch and the cameras, there was nothing common with Khandheri of five days ago.
Then, with India taking on England in an ODI, the Rajkot-Jamnagar highway had turned into a fair. Since the stadium was hosting its maiden international game, every single seat was occupied. Cut to Wednesday. With Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravindra Jadeja - the two famous cricketing sons of Saurashtra - missing in action, it didn't matter to Kathiawaris that a Ranji semi-final was being played in their region. And had it not been for Harbhajan Singh's star attraction, the crowd of 20 at the start of the day wouldn't have swelled to 200 by the end of it.
Harbhajan may not have had as much of an impact as expected by those who turned up. But they were entertained by three batsmen from their home team. Fifties by opener Shitanshu Kotak, captain Jaydev Shah and Sheldon Jackson kept Saurashtra in the hunt for a challenging first-innings total.
On a wicket that had a tinge of live grass - kept more for binding it together for the better part of five days rather than assisting seamers - it didn't come as a surprise when Shah chose to bat on the batsmen's paradise. It was Punjab who struck an early blow. Siddarth Kaul and his new-ball partner Sandeep Sharma had shared 79 wickets this season coming into this game. In the fourth over, Kaul got one to nip back from a good length and Sagar Jogiyani was left stranded in his crease, watching the off stump cart-wheeling after the ball ricocheted off his pads.
Kaul also got rid of Rahul Dave, playing in place of the run-machine Pujara, who had to join the Indian ODI squad after scoring 352 in last week's quarter-final against Karnataka. Dave fished at one outside off to offer Siddarth's elder brother Uday a catch behind the wickets.
At 58 for 2, Punjab would have wanted to their opponents to fold up just like they did on the first morning of their league game in Mohali two months ago. But the senior-most members of the side - Kotak and Shah - not only prevented a collapse but ensured that Saurashtra had a respectable, if not imposing, score with a 92-run partnership.
While Shah was his usual self, having a go at anything that was pitched up to him, Kotak didn't go into a shell as he often does in such situations. The 40-year-old veteran was leaving balls outside off as well as always. What came as a pleasant surprise was when he drove the medium-pacers with élan whenever presented with an opportunity.
With two left-handers at the crease, Harbhajan, who came on in the 20th over, bowled an extended spell either side of the lunch break. And his persistence finally paid off when Kotak's attempted cut off a ball that was too close to his body ended up being a glide into Mandeep Singh's safe hands at first slip almost an hour after lunch. Shah carried on with his assault, lofting Harbhajan straight over his head soon after raising his fifty.
With Shah not budging against Harbhajan and the legspinner Sarabjit Ladda, the Punjab captain finally introduced left-arm spinner Bipul Sharma - who replaced Gurkeerat Singh from the XI that overcame Jharkhand in the quarter-finals - in the 57th over. And the move paid off immediately. Thirteen runs short of what would have been his fifth first-class century, Shah holed out to Sandeep at long-on off Bipul's fourth ball.
Jackson played a solid knock despite losing the promising young batsman Aarpit Vasavada. Jackson was fortunate towards the end of the day when an edge was held by a diving Harbhajan at wide slip. Replays showed Kaul had some part of his foot behind the line when he landed, but dragged it out at the time of release.
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