On an opening day full of twists and turns, it was fitting that Railways' choice of opener caused much surprise. Baroda, who had chosen to field, were startled to see India left-arm spinner Murali Kartik walk out with Shreyas Khanolkar, in place of regular opener Faiz Fazal.
"We had planned this move, it's not that we went ahead with it just like that. We wanted to have a left-handed opener in the absence of Fazal (who opted out for his sister's wedding), and Kartik has done the job before as well. I have used him as an opener in my time as captain, and he played some beautiful shots today," Abhay Sharma, the Railways coach, told ESPNcricinfo. And the plan was executed ably by Kartik, who hammered nine fours and two sixes in making 57, his 17th first-class half-century.
Munaf Patel had got the big wicket of Railways captain Sanjay Bangar for 2, but to Baroda's consternation, Kartik consolidated in the company of young Prashant Awasthi to take the score past 100 from 25 for 2. "I thought they put Kartik in to negate Munaf, who nevertheless beat him on numerous occasions. But yeah, he did the job for his side," Mukesh Narula, the Baroda coach, said.
Yusuf Pathan and Munaf struck right back, taking five wickets for 16 runs as Railways plummeted to 125 for 7. But the visitors refused to give in, and a recalled Yere Goud, playing in place of Fazal, led a recovery along with JP Yadav and Nileshkumar Chauhan as Railways finished on 241 for 8.
Abhay admitted they were around 50 runs short of a good total on a wicket where the ball is coming on to the bat. "Around 300 would be a decent score. The wicket looks like it might spin, and there is also some bounce." Railways are certainly expecting turn, having gone in with three spinners, contrary to expectations.
"After the first session when it was nipping around, the wicket seems to have settled down. It should be good for batting tomorrow," Narula said. "I think 350 would be a par total. I doubt it will spin a lot, even if it does, the turn should be slow." Narula thinks Baroda have the game under control. "I believe we have the upper hand now, despite their late recovery."
Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo