Kanitkar record gives Rajasthan the edge
Rajasthan 309 for 4 (Kanitkar 129*, Parida 67, Saxena 53) v Mumbai
It was a significant day for Hrishikesh Kanitkar, formerly Maharashtra's second-best batsman of all time and now a professional for Rajasthan. He scored his 31st first-class century today, 26 of which have come in Ranji Trophy cricket, matching the tally of Maharashtra legend Surendra Bhave. There was more to it, though.
When Kanitkar started playing first-class cricket for Maharashtra, his side was the kid brother to a side called Bombay. Now that he has moved on to Rajasthan, the side most often his team's nemesis is called Mumbai. Until he joined Rajasthan, Kanitkar averaged 17.3 against Mumbai and Bombay combined. Last year he broke through, scoring his first century against them and helping Rajasthan knock defending champions Mumbai out of the Ranji Trophy in the quarter-finals. Rajasthan would then go on to be crowned champions for the first time in their history.
With some talk of revenge in the air as Mumbai, the shoe now on the other foot, faced the defending champions at home, Kanitkar slammed his second century against them in as many innings to take Rajasthan to a position from where they can think of a first-innings lead.
Kanitkar came in after the early fall of Aakash Chopra, gave respect to the new ball, and then accelerated to take toll of tired bowlers and end the day unbeaten on 129 out of a total of 309 for 4.
Rajasthan were helped by a flat pitch at the Cricket Club of India, and the overnight illness to Mumbai's Aavishkar Salvi. They did lose Chopra in that first session, but thereafter Kanitkar had good company. He added 77 with Vinit Saxena for the second wicket, and a quick and dominating 137 for the fourth wicket with Rashmi Parida, who fell to what proved to be the last ball of the day.
Kanitkar's acceleration was acute - he reached 50 in 122 balls, and brought up the hundred off the 182nd ball he faced. He did so without any frenetic hitting but through correct shots along the ground. The only hiccup came when he could have been run out on 70, but Iqbal Abdulla threw wide from cover.
Kanitkar, however, wasn't aware of his statistical achievement. "I don't really give a lot of importance to centuries unless they really contribute to the team cause," he said. "You try hard every game; sometimes you get runs, sometimes you don't. I am very happy with the way I played. I hope the result will be good for us."
Mumbai could draw heart from how they got rid of Parida in the last over the day when Dhawal Kulkarni trapped him with one that moved in. Kanitkar and Parida had exploited a tired attack and set of fielders for the last 31.5 overs. This was a flat pitch that now stands an even chance of backfiring on the hosts. A measure of how unresponsive Mumbai found the track lay in how they used as many as seven bowlers in the first session.
Wasim Jaffer, the Mumbai captain, said that keeping the nature of pitch in mind his side had done a fair job of containment in the first two sessions of the day, but conceded 30 or 40 too many in the final session. With the wicket of Parida, though, they have a new ball in hand and a new batsman to bowl to on the second morning. A crucial first session follows.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo