Jaipur: Naman Ojha slammed his ninth first-class century and took Madhya Pradesh to safety on day three of their Ranji Trophy Group A game against hosts Rajasthan on Monday.
Ojha, who struck eleven boundaries and three huge sixes - one of which went out of the ground, strung 134-run partnership for the opening wicket with Zafar Ali, who too played well for his knock of 54 after Ishwar Pandey's 6 for 92 restricted Rajasthan to 379 in their first innings, with a lead of 123 runs over the visitors.
Ojha got to his century by smacking offspinner Madhur Khatri for a six and a four in the last over of the day. At stumps, MP reached 200 for 1, leading Rajasthan by 77 runs, with Ojha and Satyam Choudhary batting on 102 and 33 respectively.
Earlier, the lower order of Rajasthan, who started the day from 306 for 6, looked determined although most of the runs they scored had come through edges. Dishant Yagnik added another eleven runs to his overnight total of 21 before giving Ishwar his fifth wicket.
Ishwar, 23, kept the Rajasthan batsmen under pressure and got his sixth wicket when Rituraj Singh (7) was caught at second slip by Zafar. Madhur Khatri, meanwhile, showed some resistance, keeping MP bowlers at bay as much as he could and playing some attractive grounded strokes in the meantime.
Pankaj Singh looked hostile during his 21-ball stay but gave a simple catch to Amarjeet Singh off left-arm spinner Rameez Khan. Anand Rajan finished the Rajasthan innings by castling Aniket Choudhary for a duck, with Khatri remaining unbeaten on 47.
MP openers, Zafar and Ojha, had a mixed start, driving Pankaj and Rituraj for boundaries but were also beaten outside their off stump during a short period before lunch. The duo took MP to 22 for 0 at the first break of the day.
Zafar started off with an on drive for four after the break but survived a huge appeal for a caught behind by Pankaj immediately after. While Zafar was going strong at the other end, Ojha decided to play second fiddle to his younger partner.
Having scored 75 in the session, MP went for tea at 97 for 0, with both the batsmen approaching their half-centuries. Ojha, who completed his fifty by a push to the covers, took charge after tea break, unfurling a string of boundaries. He lofted part-time spinner Ashok Menaria for two maximums in the same over. Zafar too completed his third first-class fifty by driving Rituraj to the wide of mid on.
After toiling hard for over 40 overs, Rituraj made the breakthrough when he trapped Zafar in front. Satyam, who was troubled by all the Rajasthan seamers, got a reprieve when he was dropped on 23 at backward point. Closing in on to his three-figure mark, Naman became a little cautious but an over by Khatri gave him an opportunity to score a valuable hundred.