Sleepless nights are an integral part of a Ranji Trophy final, and Railways must have had one after their dismal batting performance on the first day at the Karnail Singh Stadium in Delhi. But if a lack of shut-eye truly does inspire Murali Kartik to the heights he achieved on Thursday, Railways skipper Abhay Sharma might consider forcibly keeping his star spinner awake for the remainder of the match.
Resuming on 17 for no loss, Baroda had their task laid out before them like an immaculately maintained Japanese garden. All that their batsmen had to do was to notch up a big first-innings score and take the all-important lead. What transpired thereafter was bound to favour Baroda more than Railways.
When Connor Williams and Satyajit Parab proceeded to add 63 more runs for the first wicket, therefore, everything seemed to be going according to plan. But Parab, soon after getting to his fifty, was caught by Shreyas Khanolkar, giving Kartik his first scalp. Parab departed for 53 (78b, 8x4) with the score on 80.
Seven runs later, Williams, who had agonised 95 balls for 24 runs, was bowled by Kartik. The loss of the openers brought skipper Jacob Martin and Nayan Mongia to the crease, but Martin was just in transit. After making 12 off 36 balls, he fell to Harvinder Singh, leaving his side in choppy waters at 112/3.
Mongia then stood mute spectator at the other end as Tushar Arothe and Atul Bedade came and left with startling immediacy. Arothe took 25 balls to score two runs, but Bedade was much swifter, using only five balls to make the same score. Both fell to Kartik, a left-arm spinner on a magnificent roll.
Kartik ultimately consumed Mongia as well, having him caught by Khanolkar for 32 off 91 balls. At that juncture, the score was 138/6 off 58.3 overs. Within the next 15.3 overs, Railways took the remaining wickets for the addition of only 31 runs. Ajit Bhoite put up some spirited resistance, scoring 17 (60b, 2x4, 1x6), but the other lower-order bats succumbed tamely to Harvinder Singh or Jai P Yadav.
Unexpectedly, Railways had garnered a vital 84-run first-innings lead, and the match had turned on its head. Baroda, sorely missing the services of left-arm seamer Zaheer Khan, managed to capture the wicket of Yadav before the close of play, dismissing him for four (17b) with the score on 13.
But further breakthroughs were not so forthcoming. Amit Pagnis, as he had in the first innings, looked in excellent touch, striking the ball to the fence four times before the close of play, hitting up 24 off 58 balls. Tejinder Pal Singh, his companion for the second-wicket stand, was content to let Pagnis hit the runs, making three off 40 balls before stumps.
Railways, at the end of the day, led by 121 runs, nine wickets remaining in their second innings. If one batsman from the home side is able to play a responsible, even sedate, knock on the third day, Baroda will have their backs to the wall, visions of retaining the Ranji Trophy fading fast before their eyes.