Wakaskar, Waghmode lay firm platform for Baroda
Baroda 348 for 5 (Wakaskar 128, Waghmode 94, Yusuf 32*) v Saurashtra
Saurashtra lost the toss in a match they needed to win to keep their quarter-final hopes alive, but ended up chasing leather on the opening day in Rajkot against Baroda. Their spin-heavy attack helped pick up five wickets, but struggled to stem the flow of runs from Baroda's frontline batsmen, including a century from the opener Saurabh Wakaskar, 94 from Aditya Waghmode and a fluent unbeaten 37 from the most fearsome of the lot, Yusuf Pathan.
Saurashtra and Baroda came into the game with 16 and 14 points respectively, needing at least six points from an outright win as the tournament nears its final stages. Rajkot is known for its batting pitches, but on this occasion, a turning pitch was prepared to encourage a result. The grass on the surface didn't necessarily mean encouragement for the seamers, though. In fact, Baroda had rested the in-form Munaf Patel in order to manage his workload, despite him taking ten wickets in their last match.
Saurashtra didn't lose much sweat over pace either. The pair of Jaydev Unadkat and Chirag Jani sent down only 19 combined overs, with the remaining 71 being shared by their three spinners. One delivery from Unadkat with the new ball bounced twice before the wicketkeeper. That may have encouraged captain Jaydev Shah to introduce spin as early as the eighth over, with a slip and two silly points to create pressure.
Wakaskar and Dhiren Mistry, however, were unfazed as they took Baroda to 70 for 0 at the first drinks break. Wakaskar was strong on the off side against the spinners and smashed two sixes over long-off, the second of which brought up his century, his third in first-class cricket.
It wasn't all gloom for Saurashtra though, as they ended the opening session with two breakthroughs. They were lucky to get their first wicket when Mistry was adjudged caught at silly point. The ball went low to Chirag Pathak but the Baroda camp was convinced it bounced. The umpires conferred but chose not to refer it to the third umpire. Mistry walked back for a positive 45 with seven boundaries but, importantly, he had set the platform for the rest.
Kedar Devdar failed to cash in- bowled trying to drive the offspinner Kamlesh Makvana against the turn and at 126 for 2 at lunch, Baroda needed to rebuild.
The recovery came via a stand of 131 between Wakaskar and Waghmode. It ended when Wakaskar hooked Jani to Unadkat at fine leg for 128, which was the only wicket falling to pace.
Irfan Pathan, who is in the side purely as a batsman for the second game in succession, came in at No.5 and looked to sweep the spinners early. He survived a few shouts for lbw but looked more in control when he drove down the ground, hitting five fours. Waghmode was more aggressive after tea, pulling and sweeping the spinners. The sweep, though, led to his dismissal off the offspinner Vishal Joshi, six short of a century.
The largely young crowd, clustered near the pavilion, were more than happy to see two internationals at the crease when Yusuf joined his half-brother Irfan.
Irfan looked set for a fifty but was caught attempting the wrong shot. Dharmendrasinh Jadeja, the left-arm spinner, didn't give him room to cut and the turn and extra bounce led to the batsman edging to Aarpit Vasavada at first slip.
Yusuf, though, remained unfazed and whipped his first ball for a boundary to deep midwicket and charged Jadeja to launch a six over long-off. He was his aggressive self, sweeping and lofting down the ground, and bisecting gaps in the deep with confidence.
After struggling on the low-scoring pitch in Moti Bagh back home, Baroda came back well in better batting conditions in the same state. They would need Yusuf to build on his start and pile on as many as possible against a team that has produced ten centuries from seven batsmen this season.
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo