Jaipur: Two centuries - an aggressive, substantial one from Shikhar Dhawan and a solid, unbeaten one from Ajinkya Rahane - almost ensured that Rest of India couldn't lose the Irani Cup outright. They scored quickly on the opening day against Ranji Trophy champions Rajasthan, lost only three wickets, and amassed 400 by stumps in Jaipur.
Dhawan scored 177 off 165 balls, an innings that contained 32 fours and one six. Having been dropped from India's one-day squad after the tour of West Indies, Dhawan did not waste this opportunity to stake his claim again. He added 190 runs for the second wicket with Rahane, who adapted smoothly to the change in format. Having impressed during the limited-overs games in England, Rahane switched into five-day mode and batted with patience to end the day on 117 off 212 balls. He will have to revert to one-day mode against England after the Irani Cup tie is settled.
Rajasthan's bowlers struggled, with last season's hero Deepak Chahar going wicketless for 120 runs in 21 overs. His new-ball partner Aniket Choudhary also conceded more than four an over in 17 overs.
Dhawan began to attack as early as the day's fourth over, when he hit four consecutive boundaries off Chahar. The first two were driven through mid-off, the next two pulled and cut as the bowler dropped short. The other opener, Abhinav Mukund, wasn't as quick, his first fours coming in the 12th over when he drove and glided Choudhary down the ground and through gully. Dhawan reached his 50 off the first ball after drinks, off 51 balls.
Rajasthan's first bit of relief came in the 18th over, when Mukund edged medium-pacer Sumit Mathur on to his stumps. Rest of India were 77 for 1. Choudhury should have dismissed Dhawan, on 80, in the final over before lunch but Chahar misjudged the top-edge at long-leg. The Dhawan-Rahane stand took Rest of India to lunch on 122 for 1.
There was little joy for Rajasthan in the second session. Dhawan got to his century off 119 deliveries, sweeping off-spinner Madhur Khatri for two, and celebrated with a six over midwicket next ball. He and Rahane added 145 runs to their partnership and only shortly before tea were they separated. Dhawan had clouted Chahar down the ground for three successive boundaries but in the next over, from Khatri, he missed a slog sweep and was bowled. Rest of India went into tea on 280 for 2.
Choudhury began the final session positively for Rajasthan, trapping Manish Pandey lbw for 16. The dismissal cut short a bright start, for Pandey had struck four boundaries during his brief stay. Rahane then led a period of consolidation for Rest of India, moving steadily towards his century, which he reached with a straight drive to the boundary off Chahar. He had a solid partner in Parthiv Patel, who was unbeaten on 55, and they added 113 runs for the fourth wicket before stumps.