Samson century anchors Kerala
Kerala 273 for 4 (Samson 143*, Rohan Prem 42*, Suraj 2-55) v Services
An unbeaten century from Sanju Samson, his first of the season, eased Kerala to a solid 273 for 4 at the end of day one against Services in Tellichery. Two quick wickets from Suraj Yadav in the middle session had left them in a bit of a bother at 158 for 4, but Samson and Rohan Prem saw the day through with an unbroken stand of 115 for the fifth wicket. At stumps, Samson was not out on 143 off 191, having scored exactly 100 of his runs in boundaries.
Rohan, at the other end of the pitch, batted at the other end of the spectrum, hitting one four and one six in his unbeaten 42. Like the similarly left-handed Amit Verma, who had made 33 in a third-wicket partnership of 92, Rohan didn't let the ease and occasional extravagance of Samson's strokeplay influence his game, and was quite content watching it from the other end.
Having looked at the same 22-yard strip in the morning, the teams came to entirely different conclusions about it. Services, who picked three quicks and one spinner, won the toss and bowled. This would have suited Kerala, who had two specialist spinners apart from the part-time legspin of Amit Verma, who had picked up a five-for in their last game against Tripura.
The early going suggested there was little in the pitch for the seamers, and the openers put on 42 without any trouble before falling within seven balls of each other. Neither wicket had too much to do with the pitch. Nikhilesh Surendran miscued an ambitious lofted hit off the left-arm spinner Saurabh Kumar; Abhishek Hegde fell lbw to a full, straight ball from Deepak Punia that exploited the batsman's tendency to fall over and play across his front pad.
Samson, walking in at number three, had made 247 runs this season, at an average of 30.87, and had only made one half-century despite getting into double figures six times in eight innings. A feeling hung around the early part of his innings that this might be another squandered start.
He got going with successive fours off Punia, and by lunch had moved to 32 off 53 balls. In that time, his desire to get on top of Saurabh had verged on restlessness, manifesting itself in impulsive dashes down the pitch and late cuts attempted off fairly straight deliveries.
Second ball of the second session, Samson left his crease again and went for a big hit down the ground despite not quite reaching the pitch of the ball. This was pretty much the same way Saurabh had dismissed Surendran, who had skewed a catch to mid-off. Samson's mis-hit looped over cover, and Soumik Chatterjee, running backwards and to his right, dived full-length and got both hands to the ball but couldn't hold on.
Samson didn't stop taking on the left-arm spinner, and soon lifted him for an effortless six over the covers to bring up his half-century. The boundaries flowed everywhere, against everyone. In the 56th over, he took a step down the pitch and flicked Suraj Yadav over the rope at wide long-on. Next ball was full and wide and he had to reach out for the drive but still managed to beat deep point despite the fielder not having too much yardage to cover to his right.
Either side of that over, Kerala lost Amit Verma, who scooped Suraj straight to short extra cover, and their captain Sachin Baby, who nicked one that Suraj got to cut away from around the wicket. The old ball was stopping on the pitch, and Samson nearly fell to Suraj, popping back a checked drive that just landed short of the bowler.
After that little spike of incisiveness, the Services bowling fell back to looking just about serviceable. There were few really bad balls, but Samson didn't seem to need them, manufacturing boundaries with dabs through the vacant slip region and whips through the on side from a fourth-stump line. Having brought up his century by launching Saurabh over mid-on, he punched the air and roared. In the tail-end of a season of fits and starts, he had rediscovered his touch.
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo