Bhatia feasts on Hyderabad bowlers

HYDERABAD, NOV. 15. Opening batsman Rajat Bhatia's maiden Ranji century (132 batting, 263b, 14x4, 2x6) in his sixth outing put Tamil Nadu in a strong position at 273 for two against Hyderabad at close on the opening day of the South Zone Ranji Trophy league tie at NFC Grounds here today.

With captain Robin Singh doing a favour by winning the toss, the Tamil Nadu top order came up with a professional display on a pitch which required a judicious blend of circumspection and aggression. The trend was set early in the day by Rajat Bhatia, who imperiously pulled medium-pacer Narinderpal Singh for a six over square-leg.

Bhatia and southpaw S. Sriram (98, 12x4) put on 184 for the first wicket in 51.4 overs to expose the chinks in the Hyderabad medium-pace armoury. Left-armer Faiz Ahmed was wayward and Narinderpal Singh was good only in patches. Again, rather strangely, veteran off-spinner Kanwaljit Singh was not brought on till three overs before the lunch interval.

Consequently, the Hyderabad spin duo of Venkatapathi Raju and Kanwaljit Singh had to toil hard for the rest of the day against the well-set batsmen. The fielding too was lethargic.

While Sriram was more aggressive at the start, Bhatia was content to play second fiddle. The left-hander missed a deserving third consecutive hundred against Hyderabad when he pushed one to mid- on and raced for a single, only to see Bhatia refusing to budge and leaving him stranded.

Before departing, Sriram had demonstrated his class with some superb strokes on either side of the wicket. His footwork was perfect and placements exemplary and it was a sight to behold when he leaned into a cover-drive, steered one to third-man and essayed an elegant square-drive - all of Parth Sathwalkar.

In the post-lunch session, Bhatia opened out after Sriram's dismissal and the feature of his innings was the way he judged the bounce. He jumped out to cart Kanwaljit Singh over long-on and then swung him to midwicket in the same over. Quite fittingly, Bhatia reached his century by pulling Raju to the fence.

Hyderabad earned its second wicket when Badrinath was caught by a diving Raju at second slip off Narinderpal. At close, S. Sharath (23 batting) was giving Bhatia company and the Hyderabad bowlers indeed have a tough task on hand.

Earlier, Mr. G.P. Surana, president of Hyderabad Cricket Association, presented a silver plaque to Kanwaljit Singh for figuring in his 100th Ranji match, the first Hyderabad cricketer to do so.

The scores:

Tamil Nadu-1st innings: S. Sriram (run out) 98, Rajat Bhatia (batting) 132, Badrinath c Raju b Narinderpal 15, S. Sharath (batting) 23; Extras (b-2, lb-1, nb-2) 5; Total (for two wkts. in 90 overs) 273.

Fall of wickets: 1-184, 2-218.

Hyderabad bowling: Narinderpal 15-3-56- 1, Faiz 9-0-32-0, Sathwalkar 13-6-37-0, Raju 22-5-69-0, Kanwaljit 29-5-74-0, Pratap 1-0-1-0, Manohar 1-0-1-0.