Rest of India 2 for 0 trail Rajasthan 253 (Bist 117*, Umesh 5-55) by 251 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Rajasthan's Robin Bist extended his prolific first-class run, and sent out a message to the national selectors, with a century on the first day of the Irani Cup in Bangalore, though his efforts were undermined by a Umesh Yadav five-for that left Rest of India in a strong position.
A batsman scoring a 1000 runs in a Ranji season is a difficult task, but Bist accomplished that during Rajasthan's run to the title last season. For his efforts, he was rewarded with a place on the India A tour of the Caribbean earlier this year, which had a whole host of contenders for middle-order berths in the Test side. In a series where runs were tough to score, Bist failed in the one chance he got, and was left out of the A side's next assignment, the visit to New Zealand. Three months out with a thumb fracture didn't help either.
Bist's response was an assured hundred in the first chance he got, and that too against an attack that had three members of the India Test squad. "It was a very big match for me, I am coming back after three months, playing such a big game," he said after the day's play. "I was really very desperate to make runs, not a hundred, but to make runs on this track against these bowlers."
Two Rest of India bowlers who were under the spotlight were Ishant Sharma, who was returning from a lengthy injury lay-off and left-arm spinner Harmeet Singh, a star at the Under-19 World Cup. Ishant's first day of top-flight cricket since February began with a short and very wide delivery, but he had a reasonably accurate first spell, testing the batsmen around off though he wasn't getting too much movement. He was too wide in his second spell, but turned in a more accurate stint after tea.
Harmeet had an even longer absence from first-class cricket, not able to make the Mumbai Ranji side since the 2010-11 season. They was a load of pressure on the 19-year-old to deliver, given the hype over his performances in Australia and also because by picking him Rest of India's slow-bowling consisted of the infrequent combination of two left-arm spinners. He didn't flight the ball too much in his first spell, and was a touch short as well, and was taken for plenty by the Rajasthan batsmen. While he didn't cover himself with glory on the first day, it should be kept in mind that he is very raw in the format, and needs time to learn how to bowl in the longer form.
Much of the talk ahead of the Irani Cup was about the mismatch between the two sides, and about how a Rajasthan team missing four key performers from last season - fast bowler Pankaj Singh (knee injury), opener Aakash Chopra (shifted to Himachal Pradesh), batsman Ashok Menaria and fast bowler Rituraj Singh (both in the India A team) - would compete against Rest of India. Those worries seemed to be well founded when, after being sent in on a track with a bit of grass but not much help for the bowlers, Rajasthan slid to 46 for 3, with their set batsman Ankit Lamba throwing away his wicket by edging a full and wide delivery to gully.
To compound matters, Rajasthan were a batsman short, with their wicketkeeper Dishant Yagnik (first-class average 22.53) coming in at No. 6. Bist, though, calmed Rajasthan's nerves with a trouble-free partnership for the fourth wicket with Rashmi Parida. By lunch, they had moved to 81 for 3, and for an hour after the bowling was made to look pedestrian before a Parida misjudgement ended the stand: he shouldered arms to an Ishant Sharma delivery angling in, and was mortified to see it crash into the top of off.
Bist continued to build his innings, highlighted by his cuts against the spinners and flicks off the pads. Bist particularly enjoyed one shot. "When I was on 86, and hit Umesh a flick to midwicket, one of the best shots I have played," he said. He had one let-off on 41 when an edge went low and wide to M Vijay at first slip, but otherwise made the pitch look like the tame one it was. Yagnik was aggressive after tea, taking 14 off a Pragyan Ojha over, and Rajasthan cruised to 218 for 4, when Umesh sliced through the Rajasthan lower order to put Rest of India in charge.
Umesh hadn't made much of an impact with the new ball, generally dropping it too short and not making the batsman play enough. There were several hittable full deliveries on the pads as well, but when he returned for his third spell, he pitched it up and had several of the tailenders edging behind. In the space of 27 deliveries he snared five wickets, starting with a marginal decision lbw decision against Yagnik, who was struck on the pad just outside off stump.
Bist was unbeaten on 92 when Yagnik fell, and such was the haste with which Rajasthan caved that it briefly looked like Bist might miss out on a century. He got there, though, with a top-edged pull, not a stroke he was happy about, but there was no mistaking the delight at reaching the hundred. "I was disappointed at the shot, I was not enjoying the hundred because it was a very poor shot," he said. "I kept telling myself that I don't have to play pull shot, because that's the shot I really like to play, against any sort of bowler, if he is the fastest one I don't care."
Still, his unbeaten 117 couldn't stop Rajasthan from being bowled out for 253, which is not likely to be enough against a Rest of India line-up filled with domestic heavyweights.