South claim day's honours

Central fritter away good start to slip to 237/7 as spinners make late inroads

South claim day's honours

 It was a dreary start to the opening day of the Duleep Trophy final, much like the haze that hung in the morning, threatening visibility. 

Central Zone openers moved at treacle-slow pace before a fluent knock by Robin Bist and persistent efforts by South Zone spinners breathed some life into the contest at the Feroz Shah Kotla stadium on Wednesday. 

The surface, with a dash of grass, offered an even bounce, against the reputation the ground holds for being low and double-paced. However, Central, who elected to bat, found its openers - Jalaj Saxena and Faiz Fazal were in an unusual strife. Mere 14 runs trickled from the first 14 overs. By the time Saxena, a centurion in the semifinals, walked back on being caught behind off R Vinay Kumar, Central had raised 25 runs from 17 overs.  The day belonged to the collective effort of South spinners, led by Baba Aparajith (2/26). Central failed to build on the partnerships and found themselves reeling at 237/7 at the end of the day’s play. They would now rely heavily on Arindam Ghosh, who asserted his class during his 32 n.o., for a respectable first inning total.

For much of the day, Vinay was the lone seamer to grasp a wicket. It was only on the last ball of the day that another seamer HS Sharath, who dismissed Central captain Piyush Chawla, joined the list of wicket-takers. The South pace-attack bowled tight in tandem to arrest the run flow but the wickets eluded them. The second session, beginning at 75/1, changed the complexion of the proceedings. Four wickets fell for 88 runs to swing the balance in favour of South Zone.

By then Fazal (49) and Bist’s (79, 153b, 12x4, 1x6) strokemaking had begun to gain confidence. Bist, compact and tactful, delighted with his classy shots all over the park. His first boundary was a six flying over extra-cover off Pragyan Ojha, and alongwith Fazal he pushed the scoring during their 65-run second-wicket stand spanning over an hour.

Three overs into the second session, it was Aparajith, who struck twice within five balls. Fazal’s cut was lapped up at point and in-form Naman Ojha’s drive landed in the welcoming palms of Vinay at mid-off. At 94/3, it was start from scratch from Central but Bist and Ashok Maneria (37) reconstituted the innings. It was a productive 68 runs partnership that intended to lend them stability but Central once again floundered.

 Hanuma Vihari stumped Maneria and in the next over Mahesh Rawat was on his way back after being caught behind off Shreyas Gopal. The diminutive Bist stood tall amidst the ruins, his knock including almost every cricketing shot. He undid his good work, though, with a soft dismissal. It was an unconvincing flick by him off Pragyan Ojha that ended his innings at mid-off. “It was not a ball to get out to. I have never got out in this manner. I even asked Pragyan (Ojha) and he thought the ball top-spun and stopped. I should have seen the day through having batted so long. It is not an easy pitch to bat because the ball is not really coming on. Their pacers bowled well though,” said Bist. 

Chawla and Ghosh added another 52 for the seventh-wicket but the captain threw away his wicket by driving it to Robin Uthappa at cover and Central found themselves facing a challenging task on Thursday.

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