Jaipur: Rajasthan opener Vineet Saxena struck an unbeaten 146 on Tuesday as the hosts held onto a draw to fetch three points against Hyderabad. This match was a battle to save the relegation from two teams which were at the bottom of group A points table. The defending champions pipped the visitors to the post.
Resuming from their overnight score of 103 for 2, Rajasthan lost four wickets in the first hour of the morning session which gave Hyderabad a glimmer of hope to polish off the tail and look to knock off quick runs. Rituraj Singh was castled by Anwar Ahmed in the fifth over of the day for 11. Ashok Menaria biffed a string of boundaries and raced to 30 off 22 balls but he dragged the ball onto the stumps while trying to cut the off-spinner Amol Shinde.
Hrishikesh Kanitkar played some fine backfoot punches off Shinde but the offspinner got his revenge by trapping the Rajasthan skipper lbw for 26. He pressed forward to defend and the ball hit his front pad. The umpire raised the finger soon after the appeal and Kanitkar looked tad perplexed by the decision. Rashmi Parida perished in the next over as the legspinner Aakash Bhandari caught him in front of the wickets.
Saxena stood tall and looked completely unperturbed by the situation. He displayed sound technique and unfurled some sparkling shots whenever bowlers pitched short or over-pitched. He cracked Shinde for some sumptuous sweeps and cover drives and was equally at ease against pacers. Dishant Yagnik gave him fine support and dug his heels in. Though he didn't score many runs, he spent good amount of time at the crease to douse Hyderabad's hopes. At lunch, Rajasthan were 215-6.
After lunch, Saxena nudged Shinde for a single to notch up his 12th first-class century. Yagnik fell to Shinde as he came down the track but was stumped. He made 12 off 74 balls and added 46 runs off 152 balls for the seventh wicket. Deepak Chahar too chipped in with a vital contribution of 29 before helding out at deep square leg trying to smack Ashish Reddy.
Pankaj Singh caned 23 runs off 12 balls, which included three boundaries and one monstrous six, and Rajasthan declared at 329 for 9. Hyderabad had five mandatory and 20 overs left to chase an improbable target of 365 runs. Akshath Reddy (23) and Hanuma Vihari (15) added 38 runs in 12 overs when both teams decided to end the game.
Earlier, Rajasthan had made 384 runs in their first innings and restricted Hyderabad to 349 to take a 35-run lead.
Saxena, who made 84 and unbeaten 146, in the match told Cricketnext that it is one of the finest performances of his first-class career for a variety of reasons. "I think this is the first time that I've scored a half-century and a hundred in the same match so it is definitely very special. But the biggest things is that my innings helped Rajasthan to save the relegation. This was a very important match for us and had we not fetched at least three points, we would have been relegated next year which would have been tad embarrassing."
He admitted that he became bit anxious when four wickets fell in a heap in the first session of Monday. "After the wicket of Parida, we became slightly cautious. Another wicket at that stage would have exposed the tailenders. Yagnik batted well and showed composure. I just kept the basics right and tried to score runs at every given opportunity. Both time and runs were equally important at that juncture."
Rajasthan skipper Kanitkar said that a few factors went against Rajasthan this season which affected their consistency and performance. "We had fitness and injuries issues. I didn't play in three matches, Robin Bist also missed out on a couple of matches. Pankaj Singh and Rituraj didn't play one match each. So we never really got our best team on the ground and gathered the momentum. We did well in patches but consistency was missing. Also, we weren't fortunate as far as tosses are concerned. At our home ground, we lost crucial tosses against Mumbai and Hyderabad and had to bat first. Fast bowling is our strength and on the seaming track things might had been different if we bowled first."
When quizzed about the lack of quality spinner in the side, he conceded that this is surely a factor and the association must take pain to find a good spinner before the next season. "Spin is an essential ingredient for the success of every team. It gives variety to the attack and more options to the captain. This is one area which we need to seriously address before the next season. I think association must ferret out some young and talented spinners from different age-groups and blood them into the Ranji Trophy side."