Rajasthan on top despite Gagandeep seven-for
Baroda 236 and 112 for 6 (Irfan 52*, Pankaj 3-55) lead Rajasthan 333 (Suwalka 74, Saxena 66, Gagandeep 7-109) by 15 runs
What a difference a good fast bowler can make. Pankaj Singh proved that for the second time in the match when he dismissed three of the top four Baroda batsmen and raised hopes of an outright victory for Rajasthan. On a day when 15 wickets fell, Rajasthan took a 97-run first-innings lead, and then, led by Pankaj, pushed Baroda onto the backfoot before Irfan Pathan pulled the visitors back into the match. Baroda went to stumps six down and ahead by 15 runs.
Once they had restricted Rajasthan's lead to manageable proportions, Baroda had four sessions to set a target and bowl out Rajasthan to get the outright win - the only route that remained for them to make the knockouts.
But the Rajasthan new-ball pair of Pankaj and Deepak Chahar had their own plans. Both bowled a tight off-stump line and mostly took the ball away from the batsmen, asking them to force the issue. In his first over Pankaj got one to thud into the legs of opener Dhiren Mistry, who looked in all sorts of discomfort as he went down on all fours.
It was Chahar who got the first wicket when he forced Saurabh Wakaskar to edge to wicketkeeper Azim Akthar. Pankaj then got the better of Abhimanyu Chauhan, banging the deck hard with an off-stump delivery that the right-handed batsman tried to push square without moving his feet. Akthar completed his second catch without a fuss.
Having failed to make the India squad for the New Zealand tour, Pankaj was angry and he reserved his best for Baroda's best batsman in the match, Aditya Waghmode, the first-innings centurion. Bowling into the left-hander's body, Pankaj had already flattened Baroda's stand-in captain with a delivery that hit him flush in the ribs. At the change of overs, Pankaj asked Robin Bist to stand slightly deep at short leg. Trying to fend off another short delivery from Pankaj, Waghmode popped the ball into the hands of Bist.
Pankaj then sent Mistry's off stump cartwheeling with a delivery that held its line and beat the batsman for pace. At the other end Aniket Choudhary, the left-arm seamer, took a wicket off his first ball of the innings, getting Pinal Shah caught behind.
Debutant Naman Kataria enjoyed his maiden first-class wicket when he gained a favourable lbw decision against Abhijit Karambelkar, who lunged forward to defend. Karambelkar's front pad seemed a fair distance out of the crease when the ball hit it, but the umpire ruled it would go on to hit the off stump.
Irfan hit a four off Pankaj to bring up his first half-century of the season, in the final over before the umpires called off play due to bad light. Baroda, on the final day, will need more from him and his brother Yusuf, the Baroda captain. For the second day Yusuf, who was recovering from a fever, did not come onto the field. It is not yet certain if he will bat, and Rajasthan will count themselves favourites on a pitch that has become weary and is likely to feature uneven bounce.
Baroda had started the day on a positive note, with left-arm medium-fast bowler Gagandeep Singh recording career-best figures of 7 for 109 to wrest control of the match from Rajasthan.
Gagandeep made good use of the early morning moisture and found good movement from the pitch.
He struck with the third ball of the morning when he had debutant Suryaprakash Suwalka caught at short midwicket. In his next over he moved one into Bist from round the wicket to trap him lbw. The ball seemed to be going down the leg side and might have gone over the stumps as well, but the umpire raised his finger immediately.
Gagandeep trapped Rajasthan captain Ashok Menaria plumb a few overs later and in the same over got rid of Rajasthan's most experienced batsman Vineet Saxena, who was inching towards a century. It was more Saxena's fault as he went chasing a wide delivery outside the off stump, attempting to cut, only to edge to the wicketkeeper.
At that point, Rajasthan were 191 for 5, still 45 behind. Gagandeep would take three more wickets, but not before Rajasthan had taken an important lead, thanks to partnerships of 55 for the sixth wicket between Rajesh Bishnoi and Akthar, and 49 for the ninth between Pankaj and Kataria.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo