Nikhil Gangta gives Himachal Pradesh a solid start against Pondicherry

Nikhil Gangta’s marathon 100 took Himachal Pradesh off to a solid start on the first day of the Ranji Trophy Group D fixture against Pondicherry here at the Siachem Stadium on Friday.

Nikhil trusted his frontfoot defence, played with a straight bat and punched on the backfoot to elucidate solid batting conditions. He reached the three-figure mark off a lofted cover drive on his 224th ball in the last over and closed the day with a team score of 272/4.

But bowlers — both pacers and spinners — did extract bounce off the wicket to keep themselves interested.

To utilise the early morning mist, Pondicherry opted to bowl, and struck early. Seamer Pankaj Yadav cleaned up opener Ravi Thakur (11) in the sixth over of the day.

Pankaj, along with Gaurav Yadav, operated on a good length and kept the outside edge in play in the first hour. But Prashant Chopra and captain Ankit Kalsi (22) got stuck at the crease and waited for the poor balls to pounce.

The boundaries didn’t come often, but bowlers straying on pads or giving too much width helped the batters rotate the strike.

Left-arm spinner Sidak Singh then made use of the bounce on offer and troubled the batters from one end. But it was home captain Rohit Damodaran from the other end who got his counterpart LBW to provide his team a breakthrough.

Sidak continued to keep the edge in play when right handers – Prashant and Nikhil – paired up for the third wicket. He finally struck after Lunch, trapping Prashant (61) in front with a straighter one.

However, the pitch eased out as day progressed, making Nikhil and Akash Vashisht’s 151-ball stay relatively more comfortable than the others till then. With the bowlers now operating on fuller lengths, Himachal batters found it easy to play shots, rotate strike, as well as defend confidently.

Gaurav struck right after Tea to remove Akash (35) but Pondicherry bowlers couldn’t put much pressure allowing Nikhil and Rishi Dhawan to further add 78 runs for the fifth wicket till stumps.

The scores:

Himachal Pradesh — 1st innings: Ravi Thakur b Pankaj 11, Prashant Chopra lbw Sidak 61, Ankit Kalsi lbw b Rohit 22, Nikhil Gangta batting 100, Akash Vashisht lbw Gaurav 35, Rishi Dhawan batting 35; Extras (b-4, lb-1, w-1, nb- 2): 8; Total (for 4 wkts. in 90 overs): 272.

Fall of wickets: 1-18, 2-63, 3-118, 4-194.

Pondicherry bowling: Gaurav 23-4-63-1, Pankaj 10-1-47-1, Parameeshwaran 10-2-24-0, Sidak 36-7-103-1, Rohit 11-2-30-1.

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