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New season, same story

Aditya Iyer

Posted: Nov 10, 2012 at 0100 hrs IST

Jaipur: A minute or so after lunch and a fraction of a second before the ball left Dhawal Kulkarniís clasp, Vineet Saxena decided to pull away from the delivery. The leg stump tumbled, the fielders went up with a question and the umpire hesitated momentarily, before rendering the ball dead.

This episode was a break from the usual for several reasons. For the man straying past the sight-screen pulled off what eleven professional cricketers from Mumbai couldnít on all of Friday ó break Saxenaís focus for an instant.

Also, it was the only moment when Mumbaiís collective vocal cords received any kind of exercise on Day One of this Group A game. For the rest day, Rohit Sharma and his Mumbai side were quiet as the fluttering thrushes on the outfield of Jaipurís KL Saini Stadium.

This silence, however, played the perfect backdrop for loud statements made with the crisp sounding willows of two centurions ó Rajasthanís Saxena and his captain Hrishikesh Kanitkar, who slowly but surely carried Rajasthanís score to 256/2.

Separated by a few yards of batting paradise, the left-right pair occupied the pitch for a shade over six hours and a stand of 220 runs. Brought together at the fall of opener Ankit Lambaís wicket in the second over, Kanitkar and Saxena ground, sometimes even bored, Mumbai to submission for the next 73 overs.

The batting on show wasnít easy to digest for the fielders or the few fans sprinkled around the ground. But it put Rajasthan in a place they are getting rather used to: on top. And top of Mumbai. For from the second Rohit called the coin toss right and elected to field on a dry Saini wicket and bar a fleeting high with the first new ball, it was a forgetful day for Mumbaiís first-time skipper.

Lamba, following two cracking hits on the off side, nicked Kshemal Waingankar into Rohitís pouch at first slip. Rajasthanís score was 10/1 after 1.5 overs. That, however, brought in the ageless Kanitkar, who punched a couple of delightful drives off his backfoot to release the pressure for the next many hours.

Kanitkar relishes batting with Saxena. The pair put on a match-changing 126 in the Ranji final against Tamil Nadu last year, a stage on which Saxena gave a performance to remember ó his individual best score of 257. While Kanitkar did play an influential role in Rajasthanís second title win, it did not really reflect in his performance. Something he seems to be in a hurry to repair this time around.

Having scored an unbeaten 80 against Bengal in this seasonís opener, Kanitkar carried on with his off side strokes from the Eden Gardens with seamless ease. Fast to free his hands with any width on offer from the faster men (if Abhishek Nayar and debutant Shardul Thakur could be called so), Kanitkar punctuated his watchfulness with a steady flow of boundaries, mainly on the offside, in the first session.

Saxena, on the other hand, took his time before scoring his first few runs with the softest of hands. Then in the 18th over, against the run of play and his personal style, Saxena leapt out to Ramesh Powar and hoisted him inside-out to the long off fence ó his first boundary in 54 balls.

It didnít quite stop there, as when left-arm spinner Ankit Chavan dropped it short, Saxena used his feet to dump him into the adjoining tennis stadium for the only six of the day. Two more dancing boundaries followed as he left for lunch on 45, with his captain on 62.

Kanitkar claimes Mt 10K

Kanitkar, four days shy of his 38th birthday, would have reached the landmark of 10,000 first class runs (he was 113 short at the start of play) faster had he not receded shellwards in the 90s. For 33 balls just before tea, he prodded and poked on double-digits. And just when the minute hand completed a circle, Kanitkar reached his ton ó a feat that took 179 balls. This, of course, was miles quicker than Saxena, who took 285 balls to achieve the same. By stumps, he had faced 301. With just one uncalled for flinch in his concentration.

Brief Score: Rajasthan 269 for two in 90 overs (V Saxena batting 114, H Kanitkar 119; A Chavan one for 35).

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