Mayank Agarwal on song as Rest of India get off to solid start

Lunch Rest of India 142 for 1 (Agarwal 83*, Vihari 36*, Gurbani 1-37) v Vidarbha

An authoritative unbeaten half-century from Mayank Agarwal put Rest of India in control in the first session of the first day of the Irani Cup against Ranji Trophy champions Vidarbha in Nagpur. His fourth 50-plus score in eight innings oozed confidence, as together with No. 3 Hanuma Vihari, RoI reached 142 for 1 by lunch.

The day started with RoI captain Ajinkya Rahane choosing to bat at the toss. In bright conditions, with a few fans scattered in the stands, Rajneesh Gurbani kickstarted proceedings with the new ball. But Agarwal seemed to find his timing right from the first delivery. Two cracking drives in the first over set the tone for the session, and they scored at a rate of over five for the first hour. Agarwal’s dominance of the off-side was remarkable, as he latched on to any width that the Vidarbha bowlers offered. An inside-out six over long-off to get to 49 was reminiscent of Agarwal’s battle with Nathan Lyon during his debut Test on Boxing Day, and a soft push to cover brought up a half-century on his 50th first-class appearance.

Vihari came to the crease in the ninth over, after Anmolpreet Singh was bowled by an inswinger from Gurbani for 15. And he survived a close call in only his second delivery, as Yash Thakur – in for the injured Umesh Yadav – got a delivery to move slightly away after landing on a length, and sneaking just past Vihari’s outside edge. A big appeal was turned down, and Vihari went on to make 36 runs in an unbroken partnership of 96 with Agarwal.

Vihari was less aggressive but found the boundary whenever he went searching for one. His two cover drives off left-arm spinner Aditya Sarwate early on kept RoI on track. Sarwate, however, did find the outside of Vihari’s bat in the 28th over, and Faiz Fazal appeared to hold on at slip. Vihari stayed put, while the umpires conferred, went to the third umpire, and the replays showed that the catch was not clean. Vihari survived, and pulled Sarwate’s next delivery for four to hurt Vidarbha more.

Vidarbha were left frustrated even more towards the session’s end. Agarwal’s attempted cover drive in the 32nd over off Akshay Karnewar flew off his outside edge, but wicketkeeper Akshay Wadkar could not hold on. Between the Vihari miss and the Agarwal drop, the two smoked 31 runs in 26 balls.

Apart from Umesh, Vidarbha are also without the talismanic Wasim Jaffer, after he failed a fitness test prior to the match. Atharwa Taide – more than two decades younger than Jaffer – was named his replacement. For RoI, Rinku Singh, Sandeep Warrier, Ronit More and Snell Patel were the four men not named in the XI.

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