RAJKOT, March 9 (IANS): Young pacer Akash Deep took three wickets as Bengal kept Saurashtra in check as they ended Day 1 on 206/5 in the final of the Ranji Trophy here on Monday. The home team is also fretting over Cheteshwar Pujara's health as the India Test batsman looked under the weather before retiring hurt.
Akash Deep, 23, returned the day's best figures of 3/41 while pace spearhead Ishan Porel (1/37) and left-arm spinner Shahbaz Ahmed (1/56) picked up one wicket each. Mukesh Kumar, who was the hero of Bengal's semifinal win over Karnataka at the Eden Gardens, remained wicketless after the first day's play.
For Saurashtra, Avi Barot (54) and Vishvaraj Jadeja (54) struck half centuries. Arpit Vasavada remained not out on 29 from 94 deliveries with Chetan Sakariya getting dismissed off the final ball of the day.
The biggest cause of concern for the home side was Pujara, joining his state side for the final, ambling off towards the dressing room after feeling unwell late into the third session.
Pujara pushed himself down to No.6 from his usual No.3 position after Saurashtra elected to bat first. The Jaydev Unadkat-led side were 182/4 when Pujara walked out to bat and was looking solid on five from 24 balls. But as his stay at the crease progressed, the 32-year-old looked uneasy and under the weather before eventually failing to continue.
Just back from New Zealand where India lost the Test series 0-2, Pujara walked back to the dressing room looking dazed.
It was a blow for the home team who were struggling after the in-form Bengal pacers came back to take four wickets in the second and third session to blunt Saurashtra's good start.
The opening pair of Harvik Desai (38) and wicketkeeper Barot shared a 82-run stand before Shahbaz had Desai caught at silly point by substitute Abhishek Raman.
Barot followed suit soon after with India Test wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha, also joining the Bengal team for the final, taking a catch off Akash Deep.
Vishvaraj and Vasavada looked good for a long partnership, but Akash Deep came up with a beauty to rattle the former's stumps.
In-form Sheldon Jackson (14) was trapped in front by Porel as Saurashtra suddenly found themselves in a spot of bother.
Pujara and Vasavada also looked good but once Pujara left the field, it was downhill for the hosts who also lost Sakariya (4) off the final ball of the day following a correct caught behind DRS review off Akash Deep's bowling.
Saurashtra beat Gujarat in a tense semifinal to reach here while Bengal stunned Karnataka in the last-four clash. Playing their fourth final in eight seasons, Saurashtra are looking to win their maiden Ranji Trophy title, while two-time winners Bengal have not won the competition since the 1989-90 season when their head coach Arun Lal was part of the team.
Both Pujara and Saha joined Saurashtra and Bengal, respectively, following their Test assignment for India in New Zealand. India lost the two-match series 0-2. While Pujara played both the matches, Saha was dropped for Rishabh Pant.
MEanwhile, Sudeep Gharami made his first-class debut for Bengal on Monday.
Brief scores: Saurashtra 206/5 in 80.5 overs (Avi Barot 54, Vishvaraj Jadeja 54, Arpit Vasavada 29 batting; Akash Deep 3/41) vs Bengal