Mahesh Rawat, in the 69th over of the second innings, clipped one fine off his pads to bring up the 200 for Railways. The aggressive right-hander was dismissed playing a similar stroke in the first innings, but second innings was a much better outing, both for him and his side. Having scored only 94 runs in Railways’ first four games and getting only one run in the first innings, the pressure on the right-hander was increasing with every poor outing. The skipper couldn’t have timed his return to form better.
With the home side following-on, and facing a possible outright loss, the most experienced campaigner had to come good. And, he did. Rawat’s unbeaten knock of 77 had a stamp of swagger right from the moment he took guard in the 36th over of the innings. At the time, the scorecard read a disappointing 77/4 and a cautious approach could have backfired against an opposition hunting wickets with men around the bat.
He operated at a brisk clip and eased the pressure off Cheluvaraj, who was impressive in the first innings but ran out of support from the other end. Rawat cashed in on attacking fields and was severe on off-spinner Malolan Rangarajan.
In the 50th over of the innings, Rawat had his eyes locked towards the mid-wicket region and the right-hander cleared the ropes twice and brought up his 32nd First-Class fifty, off 53 balls. After two disappointing days, there was some buzz in the Railways pavilion. ‘Rawat bhaiya’ gave them a reason to be vocal again. During that period of play before Tea, there was a war of pavilions going on. While the players in the middle weren’t chirpy, both home and away dressing rooms were cheering their sides on.
The opener played a less attractive knock but blocked one end when wickets fell in quick succession. Like the first innings, where he frustrated the opposition with a 165-ball 66, Cheluvaraj was cautious while playing his shots but assured in defence.
Only period he was in major trouble was when left-arm spinner Rahil Shah operated over the wicket.
The right-hander had no plan to counter the bowler’s negative line. After Tea, Cheluvaraj kept playing with his body and was hit on numerous occasions while attempting awkward sweeps or leaving the ball in tentative fashion.
Despite the vacant covers region, the right-hander not once tried to go inside-out or did anything to upset the spinner’s line. He continued to operate with a pre-conceived mind of leaving every delivery and received many blows.
Against the seamers, however, he was confident and drove the ball elegantly through covers. The elbow, which was hit often by Shah, was in perfect position for the drives and the bat came at a nice angle to meet the ball. Cheluvaraj’s unbeaten 123-run stand with Rawat took the game into Day 4, and have raised a ray of hope for a point. It would take some doing on this wicket, especially on the final day against a quality opposition attack.
Tamil Nadu failed to pick a wicket for 34.2 overs but they would know that they are a wicket away from taking back control of this game. With an inexperienced R Jonathan and bowlers to follow, Aswin Crist and Co would come hard in the morning session – period of play which keeps the bowlers interested.
With six wickets in the first innings, and none in the second so far, Crist would like to go for a possible match-haul of ten wickets, a feat which remains a sweet dream on slow and low pitches at Chepauk back home.
Brief Scores: Railways 164 all out (Cheluvaraj 66; Crist 6/60, Kousik 3/9) & 200/4 (Cheluvaraj 80 not out, Rawat 77 not out; Malolan 2/46) vs Tamil Nadu 328.