Rahul ton puts South on top

Opener's highest first-class score and Uthappa's 80 help Vinay's men take lead

Rahul ton puts South on top

After the most successful season of his fledgling career, KL Rahul set the tone for a fresh one with another splendid century for South Zone in the Duleep Trophy final at the Feroz Shah Kotla stadium on Thursday. 

The opponents Central Zone could barely perturb the Karnataka youngster, who steered South to a position of domination at stumps on the second day. 

Rahul’s fifth first-class hundred was a stroke-filled knock, underlined by poise and gumption, one that would certainly have made an impression on the two Indian selectors, Vikram Rathour and Saba Karim,who were watching the contest from the sidelines.

 The 22-year-old carried the bat through the day, his presence soothing the sudden collapse of the middle-order by Pankaj Singh (3/55) in the last session.

Rahul, with an unbeaten 75-run stand with Hanuma Vihari (38 n.o.) was holding the fort at 308/4 at close with South 32 runs ahead. “I like pressure and challenging situations. This was a final, a big occasion. Last year I was not converting my starts. I used to get tired. So, I worked on my fitness because I knew it was important to get big scores,” said a mild-mannered Rahul.

It was a successful day for South, who dominated all three sessions of the day. They wrapped up Central Zone, who could add a mere 39 runs to their overnight 237/7, in 13 overs to muster a first innings total of 276.

In reply, Robin Uthappa (80, 97b, 113x4, 2x6) and Rahul began with a positive intent while Central lacked ideas to control their rampant strides. If Rahul squeezed out the gaps and attacked the bowling, Uthappa chose to pace his innings, giving strike to his partner, before cutting loose. Uthappa was delectable with his off and straight drives, most of them coming against Ishwar Pandey.

A couple of cuts racing to the boundary off Ali Murtaza captured the form Rahul is enjoying. Central captain and leg-spinner Piyush Chawla and Murtaza bowled in tandem for most of the second session but failed to make an impact. They put up ordinary fare against the two quality and set batsmen.

Uthappa was unlucky to miss out on his century, trapped plumb by Jalaj Saxena, the ball straightening after pitching and ending their 168-run opening stand.

 Rahul, though, kept his focus. It was a near flawless innings by the opener who was the second highest run-scorer in last year’s Ranji Trophy. His timing this day was perfect, his shots adorning all sides of the park. The reverse sweep off Saxena in the 33rd over just stood out.

“I liked my timing of the ball. It was an easy-paced pitch and this was one of my top innings,”  he said.

Chawla, costliest of all bowlers, was in for a rough treatment by Rahul who tonked him twice -- once over long on and once long off. He and his bowlers had no solution to the challenge the Karnataka batsman posed at them.

The only time, Central could sense a chance in the day, was when South lost three wickets for two runs post tea. Baba Aparajith nicked to wicketkeeper Naman Ojha to reduce South to 231/2.

 Dinesh Karthik survived two balls before being trapped in front to make it 231/3 and two overs later R Prasanna was on his way back after being caught behind. Pankaj had created a stir, however briefly.

But Rahul continued in the same vein, and got good support in Vihari. An off-driven boundary brought his 150 and with it also the lead for South Zone.

“I enjoy playing the short ball. I attack and leave it, a mix of both. I know once you settle down you can dominate,” said Rahul.

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