Tamil Nadu spinners wreak havoc on Baroda
Tamil Nadu 5 for 0 trail Baroda 162 (Mistry 68, Rahil 4-49, Srinivas 3-20) by 157 runs
Tamil Nadu's spinners enjoyed a highly productive day, as Baroda slipped, stumbled and were finally bowled out for 162 in Chennai. Left-arm spinner Rahil Shah earned his first Ranji cap since last December and benefited on a pitch that offered turn and bounce right from the first session, as he went on to finish with a career-best 4 for 49.
Overcast skies greeted both teams in the morning and there were only brief spells of sunshine throughout the day, but Baroda, who had won the toss, survived the first half hour without much trouble. However, the period of consolidation that they were building towards never came to fruition.
L Balaji, the Tamil Nadu captain, opted for spin as early as the 11th over after which Baroda's scoring was kept on a tight leash, subsequently leading to a steady bleed of wickets. Dhiren Mistry, also making his first appearance in a year, made a decent account of himself, top-scoring with 68 - his maiden first-class half-century. He did benefit from a spill at midwicket while on 34 and a straight-forward catch put down behind the stumps on 55, but was the only top-order batsman who looked in any kind of control against the incessant stump-to-stump lines of the Tamil Nadu spinners.
"It was a difficult pitch to bat on. Some balls turned and others straightened and it was slow as well," Mistry said. "I knew I had to play my shots but the ball was not coming onto the bat and I had to wait for the loose ball.". There were very few of those, though.
S Badrinath had not recovered from a mild fever which had sidelined him from practice, and the home side chose to invest in the extra spinner, which reaped dividends. Shah's impact was so effective that his figures read: 9-6-4-1, including a spell where he bowled 31 balls without conceding a single run in the morning session.
His first over showed signs of this being a result-oriented pitch, as the ball gripped and turned well past the outside edge. Tamil Nadu were quick to tighten the screws, operating with a slip and silly point for large durations of play as the ball even garnered enough venom and at one point, even tipped the wicketkeeper Dinesh Karthik's helmet off his head. Offspinner Malolan Rangarajan, who sat out the last match, and left-arm spinner Aushik Srinivas lent good support with three wickets each.
Yusuf Pathan came in at the fall of the fourth wicket with Baroda still short of hundred, and he immediately provided a different narrative. His stay, although brief, was populated by strong drives down the ground, and a conscious use of the sweep. Once the bowler pitched it short, the Baroda captain was both quick and deft with his late cuts. He enjoyed a reprieve as well, when the umpire failed to spot a clear edge to Karthik. Tamil Nadu had dropped 12 catches in their last four games and Karthik continued their sloppiness on the field. In addition to grassing Mistry, he fumbled a relatively simple stumping, and could not get his gloves behind two other chances, albeit difficult ones.
Yusuf was threatening to revive the flagging innings, but Rangarajan's steadfast accuracy, helped by another umpiring error - this time he failed to spot an inside edge onto the pad - cemented Tamil Nadu's dominance when Yusuf was ruled leg before -one of four wickets that fell between lunch and tea.
Yusuf adjusted from a sweep shot to present a forward defensive on one knee, but even though the ball had hit the bat before the pad, he was given out. Baroda had slumped to 133 for 6 and with their last established batsman in the shed, their tail succumbed without much fight.
Tamil Nadu's openers, Abhinav Mukund and Arun Karthik, survived two overs of play before bad light intervened. The pitch is expected to deteriorate in the coming days, and if that happens, Baroda's spinners could very well return the favour in kind to the hosts when play resumes tomorrow.
Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo