Saha, Pujara keep RoI in the hunt

The Irani Cup tie was billed as a battle between Parthiv Patel and Wriddhiman Saha for the slot of India’s wicket-keeper. And Saha — the primary stakeholder who had been converted into the challenger following Patel’s sterling show during Saha’s injury layoff — made a statement for retaining his spot with an aggressive hundred that brought Rest of India right back into the game.

Thanks to Saha’s unbeaten 123 (214b, 257m, 16×4, 3×6) and his unbroken partnership with captain Cheteshwar Pujara (83 n.o., 181b, 312m, 10×4), Rest of India clawed its way back to end the penultimate day at 266 for four, with the target of 379 starting to appear within its sight.

Not a good start

The day didn’t start so well for Saha, though. He spilled a regulation catch off Chirag Gandhi’s edge to deprive Siddharth Kaul of an early breakthrough after Gujarat started its second innings at 227 for eight.

The drop didn’t cost RoI too much as Kaul got rid of both the batsmen for an addition of 19 runs.

For the next couple of hours, however, Gujarat was on top of the game. With the left-handed opening combination starting to face pacers confidently, Parthiv introduced off-spinner Karan Patel in the eighth over and Akhil Herwadkar played a reckless stroke to gift his wicket in the bowler’s second over.

Left-arm spinner Hardik Patel then struck in successive overs to remove Abhinav Mukund — caught at forward short-leg — and Karun Nair whose slog only resulted in the leg-stump going for a walk. When Parthiv took a diving catch to dismiss Manoj Tiwary off Mohit Thadani, RoI was reeling at 63 for four.

In came Saha and adopted a counter-attacking strategy. Thadani challenged him by bowling full on a wicket that still offered help for pace bowlers and Saha cleared the in-field with little trouble. Off the 29 balls he faced from the burly bowler, Saha scored 39.

With Pujara holding end up, Saha continued to take calculated risks. And he didn’t flounder in any of his premeditated shots, reaching his hundred with a stylish lofted drive over mid-off off Chintan Gaja.

Parthiv out of the field

The Gujarat bowlers looked lost for ideas. It didn’t help their cause that captain Parthiv had to return to the change room for the last 90 minutes after suffering from cramps in his left calf. Dhruv Raval kept in his place, with Manprit Juneja taking charge of leading the side.

While Gujarat players will be looking forward to its captain inspiring them to end the season on a high note, Saha and Pujara would want to see their team home and earn the much-needed confidence going into the remainder of the Test season.

The scores:

Gujarat — 1st innings: 358.

Rest of India — 1st innings: 226.

Gujarat — 2nd innings: Samit Gohel c Abhinav b Pankaj 1, Priyank Panchal c Saha b Kaul 73, Dhruv Raval c Tiwary b Siraj 23, Parthiv Patel c Herwadkar b Nadeem 32, Manprit Juneja c Saha b Siraj 12, Chirag Gandhi c Pujara b Kaul 70, Karan Patel b Nadeem 15, Mohit Thadani c Tiwary b Nadeem 11, Chintan Gaja b Nadeem 2, Hardik Patel b Kaul 0, Ishwar Chaudhary (not out) 0; Extras (b-4, lb-3): 7; Total (in 90.3 overs): 246.

Fall of wickets: 1-4, 2-42, 3-127, 4-133, 5-147, 6-184, 7-212, 8-220, 9-241.

Rest of India bowling: Pankaj Singh 18-4-43-1, Siddharth Kaul 23.3-6-70-3, Mohammed Siraj 15-4-39-2, Shahbaz Nadeem 29-5-64-4, Kuldeep Yadav 5-0-23-0.

Rest of India — 2nd innings: Akhil Herwadkar c Panchal b Karan 20, Abhinav Mukund c Raval b Hardik 19, Cheteshwar Pujara (batting) 83, Karun Nair b Hardik 7, Manoj Tiwary c Parthiv b Thadani 7, Wriddhiman Saha (batting) 123; Extras (b-4, lb-3): 7; Total (for four wkts. in 84 overs): 266.

Fall of wickets: 1-29, 2-48, 3-56, 4-63.

Gujarat bowling: Chintan Gaja 13-3-51-0, Mohit Thadani 16-4-59-1, Karan Patel 7-0-34-1, Ishwar Chaudhary 15-3-45-0, Hardik Patel 31-16-59-2, Manprit Juneja 2-1-11-0.