We will aim for 350 in the first innings, says TN's Shahrukh

CHENNAI: In the lead-up to their Ranji Trophy clash against Kerala here, Tamil Nadu's No. 7 slot was expected to be a toss-up between J Kousik and C Varun. In the end, it was M Shahrukh Khan who got the nod, making his first-class debut for Tamil Nadu four years after his maiden List A appearance.

Shahrukh's inclusion proved to be ever so crucial on his first day in first-class cricket as he stayed unbeaten on 82 on Day 1 to help Tamil Nadu fight back from 31 for 4 and reach 249 for 6 in 90 overs. Skipper B Indrajith played an equally important role, scoring 87 from 188 balls at No. 4 after the other senior batsmen had let him down.

Just an hour into the morning session, Tamil Nadu found themselves in all sorts of trouble courtesy the Kerala new-ball pair of Sandeep Warrier (3-42) and Basil Thampi (2-53). While the home side had chosen to bat on a pitch that wasn't as abrasive as for the game against Bengal, there was sideways movement early on for the seamers and the Kerala duo made full use of it.

Opener Abhinav Mukund was the first to depart, trapped lbw to Warrier for a golden duck in the very first over. A few overs later, Warrier uprooted Aparajith's middle stump with a ball that came back in. In the very next over, Thampi too joined in the act with the wicket of M Kaushik Gandhi.

But the prized catch was that of Dinesh Karthik, who fell to Thampi for just 4 after a brilliant diving catch by KB Arun Karthick at first slip.

Four wickets down with just 31 on the board, it seemed as though TN's campaign would disintegrate without a fight. Indrajith and Shahrukh, however, had other ideas. While the recovery started with a 50-run stand between the captain and N Jagadeesan, who fell on the stroke of lunch after a sharp catch by the short-leg fielder to Jalaj Saxena's (1-77) off-spin, it was the 103-run partnership for the sixth wicket that really brought TN back into the contest.

They managed to negotiate the second session without losing a single wicket, reaching the tea interval at 177 for 5. Perhaps, Kerala captain Sachin Baby missed a trick by giving Warrier and Thampi all of seven overs in the afternoon session. After tea, Baby rightly reverted to Warrier and Thampi, who were getting quite a lot of reverse swing with a ball that was more than 60 overs old.

And it promptly accounted for Indrajith, who fell for 87 after an inside edge to an inswinging delivery from Warrier. Shahrukh, though, carried on unperturbed through to stumps with M Mohammed (25 batting), stitching together an unbroken 65-run partnership.

"I had a vague idea during practice on Wednesday that I may get a chance to play. Indrajith had texted me this (Thursday) morning that I might play. Going out to bat at 81/5, I was just positive in my mindset. If I can put my head down and start fresh on Friday, 350 will be a good score. The way Mohammed and I are batting, it is possible to get to 350," Shahrukh said after the day's play.

With the pitch witnessing turn as the day progressed, Warrier conceded TN had a slight edge. "Seeing the pitch, TN have a little upper hand. Indrajith and Shahrukh played extremely well. It's not easy to score runs on this wicket. In the morning, there was swing for me and the ball was just stopping a bit. And in the final session, we started to see more spin," he said.

Scoreboard: Tamil Nadu (1st innings): A Mukund lbw b Warrier 0, K Gandhi c Arun Karthick b Thampi 16, B Aparajith b Warrier 3, B Indrajith b Warrier 87, D Karthik c Arun Karthick b Thampi 4, N Jagadeesan c Rahul b Saxena 21, M Shahrukh Khan batting 82, M Mohammed batting 25; Extras (nb-1, b-4, lb-6): 11; Total (for six wickets in 90 overs): 249; Fall of wickets: 1-1, 2-19, 3-23, 4-31, 5-81, 6-184; Bowling: Warrier 21-7-42-3, Thampi 15-3-53-2, Akshay Chandran 13-2-30-0, Saxena 25-1-77-1, Joseph 16-1-37-0