Jaipur: Jalaj Saxena and Udit Birla made half-centuries as Madhya Pradesh not only averted a loss but also managed to get some brownie points in their drawn Ranji Trophy Group A match against Rajasthan on Tuesday. After declaring their second innings at 466 for 6 and setting Rajasthan an improbable target of 344 in the last session of the match, the MP bowlers struck with four wickets before both captains mutually decided to end the match 21 overs into the hosts' second innings.
With a lead of 77 on Monday, Rajasthan made early inroads in the morning session by claiming five wickets. However, Jalaj's unbeaten 98-ball 76 and a 100-ball 54 from Rameez Khan ensured a draw and with it one point. The first-innings lead gave Rajasthan three points, and they should be disappointed at not having pressed for an outright win especially after the start they got after winning the toss and bowling first on a pitch that had a tinge of grass on it.
The medium-pace pair of Pankaj and Rituraj Singh shared four wickets each as the hosts restricted the visitors to a moderate total of 256. However, MP's Ishwar Pandey claimed 6 for 92 to keep Rajasthan's lead to 123 despite 108 from 35-year-old Rashmi Ranjan Parida and 85 by Robin Bist. MP needed a solid start to save the match and Naman Ojha and Zafar Ali provided just that with a partnership of 134 for the opening wicket. Ojha made his ninth first-class century, while Zafar scored 54.
Going into day four, Rajasthan needed quick wickets and Pankaj provided them that when he got Satyam Choudhary for 34. Devendra Bundela, the MP captain, looked edgy early on in his innings, getting off the mark with a streaky four through the slips. Ojha, who was unbeaten on 102 at stumps on Monday, departed as he chased a wide delivery and edged to Vineet Saxena at second slip. Birla was then dropped on 4 by wicketkeeper Dishant Yagnik off Aniket Choudhary.
Bundela grew in confidence, slapping two cover drives when offspinner Madhur Khatri pitched up to him. After hitting Madhur Khatri, he targeted Ashok Menaria, sweeping him for two fours. However, attempting one shot too many, Bundela was dismissed for 48. Birla, the vice captain, completed his fifty with a cover drive off Pankaj.
Back-to-back wickets, that of Anand Singh (15) caught behind and Birla bowled by Pankaj, just before lunch gave Rajasthan a sniff. But Jalaj and Rameez denied them the chance and stretched the game towards a draw. Jalaj made full use of the short-ball strategy adopted by Pankaj after the break, hitting him for four boundaries and a six over fine leg. He got to his fifty with a single and celebrated it with a four and a big six off Menaria. Rameez too got to the same landmark by hitting a four off Puneet Yadav.
Chasing an impossible target of 344, Rajasthan sent in offspinner Khatri - who remained unbeaten on 48 in their first innings - with Ankit Lamba to open the innings. Lamba, who had been under pressure having scored a string of low scores in the season, started his innings with a spanking cover drive off Pandey, but was caught behind immediately after.
The ploy of sending in Khatri didn't work, for he made just 1 before handing a simple catch to short leg off Anand Rajan. Jalaj snapped up Rituraj, who too was promoted in the batting order, for 33 and the captain Vineet Saxena for a duck in the same over. Bist remained unbeaten on 37, while Yadav was on 4 when the players from both sides decided to shake hands, with Rajasthan 88 for 4.