Maharashtra fight back after Menaria fifty
Rajasthan 258 for 5 (Menaria 84, Bhatia 59) v Maharashtra
Jaipur crowds are known for their colourful heckling. RP Singh always draws a crowd here because there is an on-going feud with one particular fan who brings a group of people with him. Samad Fallah, the Maharashtra bowler who is known for his ability to bowl long, controlled spells, was cut to size when the crowd, all 10 of them, shouted, "Bowler, pace badhao [Hey bowler, increase your pace]." They don't spare their own either. Ashok Menaria, their captain who has plateaued over the last couple of years after a bright start as an Under-19 player, is called Malaria here. There were no such calls on the first day of Rajasthan's match against Maharashtra as Menaria led the home team's best effort with the bat of the season with 84.
Rajasthan's problem this season has been their batting, to counter which they have employed the experience and solidity of Rajat Bhatia. The pitch still was the usual green Sawai Mansingh Stadium one. And when Menaria lost the toss, Kedar Jadhav had no second thoughts asking them to bat first. There would have been concern around, but the pitch didn't misbehave too much and the batsmen batted with the maturity that has been missing so far this season. All of the batsmen made starts, but Menaria and Bhatia - making a new start on his 36th birthday - went past 50 to take Rajasthan to 258 for 5.
Suryaprakash Suwalka, playing in only his third first-class match, made an ideal opening pair with the resolute Vineet Saxena. The two added 46 for the first wicket before the pitch played its first decisive trick. There had been some movement earlier, but this time medium-pacer Shrikant Mundhe got one to seam in from outside off. Suwalka had shouldered arms, and had his off stump pegged back. Ten runs later, one of those things that happen in domestic cricket happened. Saxena went to pull Fallah, bowling round the wicket. There was an appeal for a catch at the wicket down the leg side. The umpire didn't make a decision immediately, Saxena strolled towards square leg and when he was about to reach his stance, with the appeal still going on, the umpire raised his finger.
Vaibhav Deshpande and Menaria then thwarted Maharashtra's momentum. Deshpande was decisive at leaving outside off, and Menaria looked to keep using scoring opportunities. It was an innings of spurts. Just after lunch the Maharashtra bowlers began to bring pressure by drying up the runs. Finally Menaria got a leg-side half-volley, which heralded three boundaries in three balls to ease the pressure. One of them was a thick edge between slip and gully, but that was how the innings was: two-thirds punchy shots, one-third streakiness.
Menaria enjoyed some luck when a diving Ankit Bawne dropped him at cover off Fallah. Deshpande didn't enjoy such luck as an offbreak from Chirag Khurana - in his second over - didn't turn and bowled him for 37. Bhatia came out at 136 for 3, and announced his arrival by dancing down seventh ball and hitting Khurana for a six over long-on. The field went back, and the two got down to accumulating runs, 86 of them for the fourth wicket.
The pitch was slow, which showed in how Menaria cut three boundaries in front of square, and even pulled spinner Khurana through mid-on for four. His progress towards a hundred was brought to a stop through miscommunication with Bhatia. He steered behind square and set off for a run, which Bhatia thought called for waiting for the ball to pass backward point. Khurana made a diving stop there, Menaria was stranded, but he didn't make any effort to go back, which gave Khurana time to aim. He hit direct, and set off on a celebratory run.
Bhatia and Puneet Yadav then nearly saw Rajasthan through to stumps with a 36-run partnership, but with what turned out to be the last ball of the day, Fallah brought Maharashtra back into the contest by drawing an edge from Bhatia. And he didn't need to badhao his pace for that. His accuracy did it for him.
Fallah reckoned that last wicket put Maharashtra slightly ahead in the contest. He said the pitch looked like it would healp seam bowlers, but it didn't. It also turned out to be slow. Menaria was disappointed he and Bhatia couldn't convert their half-centuries into a big century. He said that had been the story of the last two seasons where they narrowly missed making it to the knockouts.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo