Ambati Rayudu was a stylish master at work, evoking awe from his rivals and admiration from fans.
A precocious talent from his under-19 days, Rayudu took centre stage on Saturday with a splendid unbeaten 118 (217b, 9x4, 4x6) as Rest of India made 296 for four in its second innings, to increase its lead to 413, in the Irani Cup match against Mumbai here on Saturday.
Once he arrived in the middle after the fall of Sreesanth, the home team bowlers were witness to a watertight defence, sizzling carpet drives and shots hit dancing down the pitch for nearly four and a half hours. Rayudu has placed his team well on its way to receive the glittering cup.
“I threw it away in the first innings (51) and hence decided to keep batting today. There is plenty of bounce on this wicket and it has started to turn.
“I have had a very quality season and I am very happy the way I am shaping. I am disappointed I don’t have more centuries to show for, it is 27 half centuries. Hopefully I will be able to increase the centuries in the second half of my career,’’ said Rayudu.
The 27-year-old’s 14th century in First Class competition and the first in the Irani Cup came after Dhawal Kulkarni, Shardul Thakur and Javed Khan had put in some honest work with the new ball to keep the contest alive.
The century-maker in the first innings, M. Vijay, and night watchman Sreesanth offered a defensive bat in the first hour.
On their part, Kulkarni, Khan and Thakur bent their back and looked a more cohesive unit with the ball than in the first innings.
But it was not their admirable effort that obtained the first break. A typical electrifying fielding and direct hit from Rohit Sharma, from the cover region, removed a stubborn Sreesanth.
Kulkarni bowls well
Somewhat patchy in his early spells of the first innings, Kulkarni used the last opportunity before the Indian team selection on Sunday to impress the selectors.
He troubled Vijay and Manoj Tiwary and should have scalped Vijay (32, dropped by substitute Kaustubh Pawar at gully) and Tiwary (1, dropped by wicket-keeper Aditya Tare).
Kulkarni bowled eight overs for 21 runs, Khan seven for 11 and Thakur eight for 21 as the host appeared set to make a match of it when Thakur dismissed Vijay with Rest’s score at 67.
Tiwary (on 1) had luck running his way when umpire Subrat Das rejected an appeal for leg before from Abhishek Nayar but for the second time in the match the Bengal captain was surprised as he top-edged a sweep to Wasim Jaffer.
Tiwary and Baroda skipper Rayudu’s partnership of 140 in one ball short of 50 overs has virtually shut the door on Mumbai from making a bid in the fourth innings.
Rest of India — 1st innings: 526.
Mumbai — 1st innings: 409.
Rest of India — 2nd innings: S. Dhawan c Nayar b Kulkarni 0, M. Vijay c R.Sharma b Thakur 35, S. Sreesanth (run out) 18, M. Tiwary c Jaffer b Dabholkar 69, A. Rayudu (batting) 118, S. Raina (batting) 40; Extras (b-2, lb-2, nb-6, w-6): 16; Total (for four wkts. in 95 overs): 296.
Fall of wickets: 1-0, 2-60, 3-67, 4-207.
Mumbai bowling: Kulkarni 13-3-31-1, Nayar 9-3-28-0, Javed 12-6-21-0, Thakur 9-0-25-1, Chavan 29-4-93-0, Dabholkar 18-1-73-1, Rohit 5-0-21-0.