Baroda 159 ( Yusuf 41, Chandrasekar 4-50, Rahil Shah 4-38) and 4 for 0 need another 118 runs to beat Tamil Nadu 125 and 155 (Aprajith 39, Indrajith 35, Bhatt 6-58)
Spin ruled again at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai, as 19 wickets fell on the second day of the Tamil Nadu-Baroda clash. So much so that the pacers from either side did not bowl a single over, and were left manning the boundaries for the entire day or resting in the dressing room.
After debutant left-arm spinner DT Chandrasekar and his senior partner Rahil Shah picked up four wickets each to skittle Baroda for 159, the three-pronged spin attack of Bhargav Bhatt, Swapnil Singh, and Yusuf Pathan took center stage again to bowl Tamil Nadu out for 155. Set a target of 122 with over two days to spare, Baroda negotiated the last two overs of the day without any damage.
Malolan Rangarajan and Rahil began proceedings amid bright sunshine and found assistance right away, but it was Chandrasekar who started the slide. He showed little signs of nerves and struck thrice in his first three overs. Chandrasekar first had Aditya Waghmode pop a catch to Baba Indrajith at short leg for 21. Chandrasekar then looped it up, drew Kedar Devdhar out of the crease, and had him stumped for 40. Hardik Pandya was trapped lbw for 2, a wicket that Chandrasekar recalled with fond memories after stumps. He let out a roar and even let rip a throw towards Yusuf's head in his follow through during the probing spell. He was not going to hold back. And neither was Yusuf.
Yusuf's first four balls read: 4 0 6 6. Malolan was smote for sixes straight down the ground and over long-on. Ahead of the start of play, Yusuf had emphasised on an attack-first approach and walked the talk. He drilled drives down the ground, picked gaps, and kept the scorecard ticking. He helped his team move into the lead in the 41th over, but was out leg before in the next over off a flat darter from Rahil for 41 off 43 balls.
In between, Deepak Hooda was also dismissed by Rahil, and Swapnil Singh was caught short by an accurate direct hit from L Vignesh, another debutant. Vignesh almost produced another moment of brilliance when he back-pedaled from midwicket towards cow corner to snap up Bhatt, but the momentum pushed him past the rope. Bhatt indulged in leg-side hacks and Pinal Shah's slog-sweeps also turned out to be substantial contributions, as Baroda nudged ahead.
Tamil Nadu captain Abhinav Mukund's 100th first-class game, though, got worse: he danced down the track and feebly chipped Swapnil into the lap of short midwicket to bag a pair. Once again, it was down to Bharat Shankar and Baba Aprajith to rebuild. Much like on the first day, both batsmen flicked on the blockathon switch before Aparajith broke the shackles with a firm pull over midwicket off Swapnil. He late-cut Bhatt in the next over before unfurling his trademark inside-out lofted drive over wide long-off.
Both Aprajith and Shankar benefited from the in-out field, but the 48-run partnership ended when Shankar spooned a leading edge to cover. Aparajith soon followed him when he was given out caught behind, though there was a daylight between bat and ball. He swiped his bat onto the turf and walked back, shaking his head, and the slender crowd was silenced. Indrajith took over from his twin and showed more intent with Dinesh Karthik in a 37-run stand.
Karthik began scratchily, though, and was scoreless for 15 balls. Just when it looked like he had found his range, Pandya hurled a direct hit from backward point to cut short his effort. Indrajith, however, nudged Tamil Nadu's lead past 50 with a punchy drive through the covers before Yusuf held onto a stunning catch, diving low to his right.
J Kousik hung on for 14 and Malolan struck a six before Bhatt wrapped up the innings with his sixth wicket, extending his match-haul to 10. Yusuf played up with the crowd, throwing the ball into the stands and flashed a big smile before trooping off.
Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo