Gujarat finish strong after Venugopal ton
Gujarat 281 for 7 (Venugopal Rao 107, Juneja 50, Narwal 5-56) v Delhi
Prior to this game, in the six matches Venugopal Rao had played for Gujarat - his fourth Ranji team - he had meagre returns of 126 runs at 12.60. But in front of a near-capacity crowd of about 6000 cheering the home team at Surat's Lalbhai Contractor stadium against a star-studded Delhi side, Rao scored his first first-class century in almost six years to help Gujarat close the day on a relatively positive note despite allrounder Sumit Narwal's sixth five-wicket haul.
Rao arrived at the crease following Parthiv Patel's dismissal in the first session, which had left Gujarat in a tricky position at 67 for 3. He played watchfully until lunch, leaving Manpreet Juneja to do most of the scoring. He took on the onus from the second session onwards, using the sweep shot effectively against the spinners, and brought up his half-century - his first for Gujarat - with a clean hit over long-off.
That six was also the first time the spectators got their voice behind Rao and they were cheering him on loudly by the time he got to his 14th first-class hundred. He hit 13 fours and arrived at his landmark with a neat tuck behind square off Ashish Nehra in the 77th over. He was dismissed in the first over with the new ball - the 86th - chasing a wide delivery from Narwal, making his first error in judgment.
On the eve of the match, Parthiv, the Gujarat captain, had mentioned that the presence of Rao in the middle order lent maturity to a batting line-up of young players. He lived up to that belief, forging two important partnerships, first a 57-run stand with Juneja for the fourth wicket and then 108 with Bhargav Merai for the fifth wicket, on a pitch that flattened out in the afternoon.
Delhi's seamers had threatened in the morning session where a number of deliveries reared up from a length to either beat the batsmen or hit them high on their bats. In the fifth over of the day, Delhi had their first real chance when both batsmen ended up at one end, but Samit Gohel made it back to the non-striker's end safely as Nehra failed to hit the stumps from close range. The wicket, though, came three balls later when Rajat Bhatia at short leg plucked a well-timed flick off Smit Patel.
Sumit Narwal, Delhi's best bowler last season, made the next two strikes, getting Gohel with an inswinger before trapping Parthiv lbw from round the wicket. During this early period, Juneja and Parwinder Awana had their own little duel. The pace and bounce from Awana had Juneja in trouble on more than one occasion only for the batsman to respond with well-timed boundaries through cover and over midwicket. Juneja brought up his fifty off 99 deliveries but didn't have much of a chance against a Nehra delivery that stayed low and hit him in front. There were a number of similar deliveries throughout the day, suggesting the pitch may not be the featherbed that was dished out last year.
Devashish Fuloria is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo