Jaipur: Defending champions Rajasthan will hope to step up their performance when they take on Madhya Pradesh in their Ranji Trophy Group A encounter starting here from Saturday. Their first two matches against Bengal (away) and Mumbai (home) ended in draws and they are lying seventh in the points table by conceding the first-innings lead on both those occasions.
Pankaj Singh, the medium-pacer, gave them a chance when his 5 for 50 restricted Bengal to 258 in the first innings, but their batsmen let them down. None of them made a half-century and the whole team was bowled out for a paltry 161. Pankaj took four wickets in the second innings and the captain Hrishikesh Kanitkar also made an unbeaten 80 but that could only help them secure a solitary point from the outing in Kolkata.
Kanitkar once again came into the act, scoring 119 – his 32nd first-class century - to help Rajasthan post a challenging 478 in their first innings against Mumbai, along with seasoned opener Vineet Saxena (114). But the pitch at the KL Saini Stadium didn't change its nature in the remaining days and helped the Mumbai batsmen as much as it helped Rajasthan’s batsmen. And despite further toil by Pankaj, who bowled 34 overs for one wicket, Rituraj Singh and Aniket Choudhary – the team's other medium pacers who bowled 45 and 43 overs respectively for three wickets each - Mumbai posted a mammoth 579, thanks to Hiken Shah (140) and Abhishek Nayar (105*).
As the wicket here is expected to favour the batsmen once again, Rajasthan may go in for an extra specialist spinner. Gajendra Singh and Ashok Menaria, the left-arm spinners, bowled 67 overs between them in Mumbai’s innings. The inclusion of offspinner Madhur Khatri in place of one of the medium-pacers could be the option Kanitkar will weigh before finalising the playing XI.
Madhya Pradesh, on the other hand, have also played out two draws. While they managed to sneak out a point against Gujarat (home) where the gutsy 55 run-stand for the eighth wicket between allrounder Jalaj Saxena and tailender Anand Rajan denied the visitors an outright victory, centuries from captain Devendra Bundela (142) and Saxena (142) helped them come out with three points against Hyderabad (away).
Rajan has been the pick of the bowler for them with his medium pace, claiming 11 wickets in two matches so far. Saxena, along with his useful innings, also picked up four wickets with his offspin. A win here will take Madhya Pradesh higher up in the points table from their now claimed No. 3 three spot.
Rajasthan: 1 Ankit Lamba, 2 Vineet Saxena, 3 Hrishikesh Kanitkar (capt), 4 Robin Bist, 5 Ashok Menaria, 6 Rashmi Parida, 7 Dishant Yagnik (wk), 8 Aniket Choudhary/Madhur Khatri, 9 Pankaj Singh, 10 Rituraj Singh, 11 Gajendra Singh
Madhya Pradesh: 1 Naman Ojha (wk), 2 Satyam Choudhary, 3 Zafar Ali, 4 Devendra Bundela (capt), 5 Udit Birla, 6 Anand Singh, 7 Jalaj Saxena, 8 Ankit Sharma, 9 Anand Rajan, 10 Amit Sharma 11 Ishwar Pandey