Shah impresses in first-class comeback
Only 14 wickets fell in four days in the last match at the MA Chidambaram Stadium, and with Tamil Nadu stuck in the middle of the Group B table with four draws in four games - in the last of which they conceded a first-innings lead to Saurashtra - a turning track was prepared for their match against Baroda. Immediate effects were seen on the first day itself as the hosts bowled Baroda out for 162 with all ten wickets falling to spin.
Tamil Nadu went in a batsman light with S Badrinath out with an illness, and picked three spinners. All three made an impact. Rahil Shah, the 28-year-old left-arm spinner, had only one wicket from two previous first-class matches, the last of which was in December 2012. But today he got the ball to turn and bounce right from his first over and ended up with four wickets.
"I was raring to go," he said. "I've played a few one-day and T20 games [in the lead-up to this match] and was just waiting for my chance in the longer format." Last season, Shah was Tamil Nadu's leading wicket-taker in the Vijay Hazare Trophy with his biggest haul a four-for against Kerala. In the Twenty20 format, he picked up a career-best and match-winning 3 for 22 against Andhra in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy.
"There was a bit of nerves early on," Shah said, "but I stuck to my basics and concentrated on my strength which is bowling line and length. The pitch was on the slower side and run-scoring wasn't easy. I tried to bowl quicker to try and get some bounce."
Shah's ploy worked perfectly against Kedar Devdhar - the wicket he picked out as his best - with the ball rearing off a length to catch the batsman's glove and balloon to slip. "I wouldn't give the ball too much air," he said, while agreeing that the pitch suited his style of bowling. "It was kind of similar to the wicket at the Guru Nanak ground, where I play for Vijay CC (in the TNCA league)."
Tamil Nadu survived two overs before stumps without losing any wickets and Shah was confident of their batsmen bettering Baroda's performance. "We don't have a set target in mind," he said. "We will just concentrate on playing time, taking it ball by ball and get a first-innings lead."
For Baroda, Dhiren Mistry, the 22-year old opener, made his maiden half-century in his second first-class match, top-scoring with 68. Mistry believed the visiting spinners would also have their say. "If we hadn't lost more than one or two wickets [in the post-lunch session] things would have been different but we can definitely restrict their batting," he said. "The wicket is helping the spinners."
Alagappan is a sub-editor at ESPNCricinfo