Rahil Shah seals thrilling win for Tamil Nadu
Tamil Nadu 125 (Aparajith 44, Bhatt 4-32, Yusuf 4-29) and 155 (Aparajith 39, Bhatt 6-58) beat Baroda 159 (Yusuf 41, Rahil 4-38, Chandrasekar 4-50) and 114 ( Hooda 32, Rahil 5-43) by seven runs
With the ball ripping and spitting from a length on a Chennai minefield, any target in the fourth innings was going to be a difficult task. Baroda's left-arm spinner Bharghav Bhatt's match haul of 10 wickets had helped his team edge ahead at stumps on the second day, but it was Rahil Shah's nine wickets which tipped a see-sawing thriller Tamil Nadu's way. Seconds after the No.11 Sagar Mangalorkar was snaffled by Rahil, the spinner was mobbed by his team-mates in a raucous celebration.
While Rahil punched the early holes and wrapped up the innings, Malolan Rangarajan and DT Chandrasekar took care of the middle order. Baroda had more than a whiff of a chance when Deepak Hooda and Hardik Pandya took the attack to the hosts in a 33-run partnership, but Tamil Nadu held their nerve to open their Ranji campaign with a victory.
Rahil opened the bowling and found success in his second over of the day when he dismissed Hitesh Solanki for 7. Two balls later, he roared again after having Aditya Waghmode caught at slip for nought but it was nipped in the bud, with replays showing that Rahil's foot was on the line. Waghmode added only six before he was snapped up smartly by Baba Aparajith, who gave the Baroda captain a mini send-off.
Malolan followed that strike with the wickets of Kedar Devdhar and Yusuf Pathan, as Baroda were reduced to 50 for 4 in 17.2 overs. There were only about 10 people in the stands at the start of the second session, after the first was washed out by a persistent drizzle, but once Malolan zipped away, the crowd started slowly building up.
Tamil Nadu's captain Abhinav Mukund identified Yusuf's wicket as the crucial one after the match and also admitted that it was a plan to place a fielder at deep midwicket. Yusuf had slugged two sixes off Malolan in the first innings and had consistently targeted the leg-side gaps. In the second dig, Yusuf swiped at a ball that was not full enough, and holed out to deep midwicket for 5.
Deepak Hooda, who had walked in with his side still 72 runs away from the target, began positively with back-to-back fours. The fourth ball he faced was laced inside out over the covers but it was the powerful reverse-sweep over backward point that stood out. He continued to be positive with his score at various points reading: 14 off 4, 24 off 9, and 30 off 14.
Hardik Pandya then fed off Hooda's approach and pinged Chandrasekar for a six down the ground. Chandrasekar, however, held one back in the next over and had Pandya nicking behind for a run-a-ball 17. Four overs later, Chandrasekar, wary of Hooda tripping down the wicket, shortened his length and hoodwinked the batsman.
With a close finish looming, Tamil Nadu remained calm, but they also enjoyed some good fortune. Pinal Shah, who was sharp behind the stumps, edged one behind, and the ball ricocheted off Dinesh Karthik's gloves and settled into the hands of Bharath Shankar. Murtuja Vahora was then given out leg before despite signs of an inside snick.
The close-in catchers also showed good composure, as Rahil wiped off the tail with four wickets in two overs, which culminated in a seven-run win.
Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo