It has been a dream Ranji season for Bhargav Bhatt, and the left-arm spinner's run continued when he picked up five wickets in Rajasthan's first innings to move past Pankaj Singh as the highest wicket-taker with 45 victims. The Moti Bagh track was assisting spin, there was a rough to be exploited, and Bhatt capitalised, bowling Robin Bist with what is surely one of the best deliveries of this year's tournament. The ball pitched outside leg stump from over the wicket, and turned sharply past Bist's forward push to take out the off stump.
"It was a planned move," Mukesh Narula, the Baroda coach, said. "Bhargav saw that Bist was playing with an open face of the bat, and felt that he should go for the changed angle from over the stumps. It was good thinking on his part."
Aakash Chopra, the Rajasthan opener, told ESPNcricinfo that Bhatt was pretty accurate throughout his 42.1 overs. "He didn't bowl many loose deliveries, and obviously the wicket suited him. He looks good. Of course, he must have done many things right to have taken 45 wickets." Bhatt, who is playing in his first full Ranji season, said that he has had to learn fast about the importance of accuracy at the first-class level compared to the age-group levels, where one could get away with maybe one or even two bad balls in an over.
Despite Bhatt's heroics, Rajasthan managed 394, a total that will take some getting on a track where uneven bounce is becoming a regular feature. "It is not a huge score, but one that can be defended, with the kind of bowling that we have," Chopra said. "However, unless it is a huge one, I don't think the first-innings lead will matter that much. This game has a long way to go. I think tomorrow is the most important day, and by evening we should have a much clearer picture of who is ahead."
Baroda began promisingly in their first innings, with Jaykishan Kolsawala stroking his way to an unbeaten 46, but Chopra felt that was because the ball came on better due to the extra pace of the Rajasthan bowlers. "We also attacked more in the quest for wickets, and that led to some extra runs being conceded. But I don't see the scoring rate jumping up much on this track."
With many deliveries rising barely above ankle length, Chopra felt that the horizontal shots needed to be avoided, but the overall approach would have to be positive. Narula said that it was possible to score runs on the wicket with a few adjustments. "The deliveries that are keeping low are mostly from short of a good length, and it is possible to go on the back foot and tackle them. It is difficult and requires application, but it is definitely possible to score, as Kolsawala showed today. Only Connor Williams in our line-up plays very steadily. All the other batsmen are aggressive in their approach. And I believe that is the way to go tomorrow."
With the Baroda spinners picking up eight wickets between them, the onus will be on the Rajasthan spinners, Vivek Yadav and Madhur Khatri, to deliver as well, something they haven't been required to do this season. "I can't really say that our spinners haven't done well, the fact is that they haven't been tested as Pankaj and Deepak Chahar have done the job for us so far," Chopra said. "But tomorrow will be the big test for them."
Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo