Rajasthan set Baroda big task
Baroda 73 for 1 (Kolsawala 46*) trail Rajasthan 394 (Bist 77, Kanitkar 61, Bhatt 5-103) by 321 runs with 9 wickets remaining
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Bhargav Bhatt toiled his way to a well-deserved five-wicket haul, but could not prevent Rajasthan from getting close to 400, a total which looks competitive on a wicket where uneven bounce is in play, with numerous deliveries failing to rise above ankle height. Jaykishan Kolsawala led a strong reply for Baroda, but Rajasthan managed to remove his opening partner Connor Williams, and will think they hold the initiative against a line-up that is thin on experience.
That the second day saw more action after the dullness that had characterised the first was due to the batsmen taking more initiative, and the bowlers getting more help from the surface. While Bhatt was rewarded for his efforts, Murtuja Vahora got the ball to nip around and hurried the batsmen, though that was not reflected in his 36 wicketless overs that went for 108 runs.
None of Rajasthan's batsmen made a hundred, but the intent today was to look for every opportunity to score, and they added almost the same number of runs they had yesterday in fewer than two-thirds of the overs. The approach was characterised by Ashok Menaria, whose quick 45 inched Rajasthan close to the psychological mark of 400, even as the left-arm spinners Bhatt and Swapnil Singh were getting the ball to turn and bounce.
Menaria's innings was crucial as it came after Rajasthan had lost the pair of nightwatchman Vivek Yadav and Robin Bist, the latter to a ripper from Bhatt, with the score on 269. Bowling from over the wicket, Bhatt pitched one in the rough outside the right-hander's leg stump, and got it to turn sharply past the angled forward push from Bist to uproot his off stump. Like yesterday, there was turn, but it was sharper, and the unevenness of the surface showed when consecutive deliveries from offspinner Aditya Waghmode took off to reach shoulder height, the second ball beating wicketkeeper Pinal Shah as well.
Another wicket or two at that stage, and Rajasthan would have struggled to reach 350. Menaria showed the importance of being positive on this track, starting with two swept fours off Bhatt that went either side of the deep-backward square leg fielder. In the next over, he hit Waghmode for fours on either side of the wicket, and two overs later, looted 12 runs from Swapnil Singh with a six over midwicket and a four through extra cover. With Menaria dismantling the bowling and Rashmi Parida looking solid at the other end, Rajasthan added 120 runs in the first session, and were eyeing a total in the region of 450.
Baroda, who had started to wilt under Menaria's assault, came back with purpose after lunch, tying down the batsmen. Bhatt got Menaria pushing hard at one that gripped and bounced to take the inside edge, the ball then striking the pad before ending up in the hands of forward short leg.
Parida ensured Rajasthan did at least get close to 400, playing safely, but using the steer, glance and sweep to pick up boundaries. He brought up his half-century with another sweep off Bhatt, but the tail did not offer him much support. Rohit Jhalani got a beauty from Sankalp Vohra, and Deepak Chahar and Pankaj Singh went to back to deliveries that came in and were bowled, though the ball that got Pankaj did not get up above his ankle. Bhatt bowled Parida with a quick yorker-length delivery in his 43rd over for his fourth five-wicket haul in ten first-class games.
Pankaj and Chahar have formed a potent new-ball combination this season, but Kolsawala and Williams negotiated them safely. Both chose to defend the seamers mostly on the back foot. Kolsawala was a treat to watch, especially when he drove straight down the ground and through extra cover. An overly defensive approach could have played into Rajasthan's hands, but Kolsawala made sure that didn't happen.
Rajasthan did end the day on a positive note, when Williams pushed at legspinner Yadav, playing for turn where there wasn't any, and Aakash Chopra took a sharp diving chance at slip. The pressure of a final showed on Kedar Devdhar, who had made 4 and 0 in the semi-final, and looked anxious to get off the mark. But Rajasthan made him wait for 23 deliveries, and he finally got off the mark courtesy a misfield at mid-on. Rajasthan will hope the uneven nature of the track creates further doubts in the minds of the Baroda batsmen tomorrow, for whom 394 appears miles away at the moment.
Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo