There’s a common pattern to the Ranji Trophy matches at Eden Gardens this season — win the toss, opt to field and take the mickey out of the opposition batsmen. Karnataka did it to Delhi, folding them up for 90 in their first innings; Assam had inflicted similar damage on Saurashtra, making them totter at 69/8 before a partial recovery and on Sunday, Maharashtra bundled out Vidarbha for 59. It has now become a familiar script at this neutral venue with seamers holding sway.
At 34, Maharashtra medium pacer Anupam Sanklecha was the chief protagonist in today’s play, taking 7/25 in 11 overs. Vidarbha came close to scoring their lowest-ever Ranji total, a downgrade on 40 against Rajasthan in 1977-78. You can’t help but repeat an overused phrase — the pitch had no demons, a distinctly greenish hue notwithstanding. The new ball moved in the air, it seamed off the deck as well, but Vidarbha’s slump was basically down to inadequate batting technique.
The weakness came to the fore in the very first over, when R Sanjay poked at a Sanklecha outswinger without moving his feet. Keeper Vishant More completed the formality. Sanklecha them removed Faiz Fazal; Vidarbha’s best batsman with a mindset for the longer format. The seamer had to bowl a good ball to get him out and he made one rise sharply. Fazal jabbed at it and was well taken by Swapnil Gugale at short leg. Sanklecha’s first spell read: 6-1-15-2.
Debutant Pradeep Dadhe took over from his senior partner, accounting for Ganesh Satish and Shalabh Shrivastava. The latter had been the only one to get into the double figures — 19. Sanklecha changed side and came from the Club House end.
He started to take wickets for fun. Jitesh Sharma was adjudged leg before. Akshay Karnewar tried to play a flashy drive and was bowled through the gate, Lalit Yadav was taken care of next ball in almost an identical fashion, an away-goer sent Akshay Wakhare packing — caught at third slip – and Ravikumar Thakur was late on a Sanklecha inswinger and found himself plumb in front.
In between, Mohsin Sayyed trapped Ravi Jangid leg before with an in-coming delivery — the batsman shuffled across a little too much — and Vidarbha’s innings was over 15 minutes before the lunch break. Sanklecha’s second spell was super impressive: 5-1-10-5. He returned with his career-best figures.
“I just tried to hit the right areas. There was no specific plan to change the end. The idea was to bowl in short spells so the skipper gave me a break after the first five overs. Just that everything clicked, when I came from the other end. The conditions were helpful, so I just stuck to my basics,” he said after the day’s play.
The next two sessions belonged to Sanklecha’s team-mate Naushad Shaikh, who scored his second first-class hundred to suck life out of the opponents.
At 12/2 inside three overs, Maharashtra looked wobbly in their reply. Both openers were gone and then, Kedar Jadhav played a poor shot to make things complicated. The Maharashtra captain was in his customary attack mode. He breezed to 30 off 29 balls but Yadav’s bouncer was a little too wide for an attempted hook. Top edge ensued and Wakhare ran a few paces towards his left from point to take a simple catch.
Maharashtra were 59/3 and obviously not in control. But Shaikh revelled under pressure. He played straight, played the ball on merit and showed maturity beyond his experience.
This is only his fourth game at this level but the 25-year-old reacted to situations like a veteran. An adjustment to a Shrikant Wagh delivery stood out. Shaikh went for a cut but the ball stopped a bit. Without checking his shot, he slashed hard and the ball flew over the slips for a four. A six over deep mid-on off Wakhare was gorgeous.
“Yes, odd ball stopped. I just tried to make full use of every scoring opportunity. The pitch wasn’t offering much turn, so to some extent we targeted the spinners,” Shaikh said.
Brief scores: Vidarbha 59 all out in 28 overs (A Sanklecha 7/25) vs Maharashtra 240/3 in 55 overs (N Shaikh 111*, A Bawne 75*).