Gallant Central stage fightback

Fazal, Jalaj make fine fifties; South Zone keep balance with late wickets

Gallant Central stage fightback

On a day of swinging fortunes, Central Zone, for the first time in three days, put up a superior effort in the first two sessions only to allow South Zone wrestle back the advantage in the Duleep Trophy final here on Friday.

South, perked by the unbeaten 168 of KL Rahul and a first innings lead of 32 at overnight 308/4, had everything going for them in the morning. But they crumbled after adding a mere 71 runs to settle for a lead of 103 runs. Spinners Ali Murtaza (4-59) and Piyush Chawla (2-95) struck in tandem and South Zone found themselves slipping from a position of strength to one of worry.

Buoyed by their successful start to the day three, Central then had Faiz Fazal and Jalaj Saxena flourishing on a surface that had resiled to its low and slow nature and offered little help to fast bowling. The South spinners toiled most of the day but arresting the glut of run became a tall order.

 The Central, however, shot themselves on the foot after failing to cash in on a robust 128-run opening partnership. They were reduced to 214/4 in the second innings before bad light brought early stumps. Central now lead by 111 runs with six wickets in hand. Robin Bist (27) and Mahesh Rawat (11) would aim to extend Central’s lead on the fourth day.

The South collapse began with the dismissal of overnight batsmen Rahul (185, 233b, 19x4, 2x6) and G Hanuma Vihari (75). Rahul went for the wrong line and Chawla’s delivery snuck through the gates to deprive him of a double hundred. Vihari was done in by an inside edge off Murtaza. The South tail was winkled out in no time as Central positioned themselves on the driver’s seat.

Fine stroke-play

They further compounded South’s misery following an assured and collected start by Fazal (72) and Jalaj (71). Jalaj, who had struggled to score in the first innings, stroked the ball with envious lucidness and Fazal joined in with equal measure. The runs came slickly and the two accelerated in the post-lunch session. 

It had become a painful domination of bat over ball when Pragyan Ojha provided the breakthrough. Saxena had come forward to defend a straighter one from the left-arm spinner, only to be caught plumb in front. By then, Central had already erased the first innings lead and Bist joined Fazal to further build the innings.

Fazal, who was dismissed for 49 in the first essay, stood out with his cool and collected strokeplay. It was a clean innings by the opener, who impressed with his judgement as well as placement. However, a mistimed pull, flying straight to Baba Aparajith at deep square leg, ended his stay.

Naman Ojha delighted during his brief stay, only to fritter away his wicket with a poor shot. His attempt to late cut Shreyas Gopal ended in the hands of second slip and Central top order was back in the pavillion. Ashok Menaria was trapped leg before within two over and Central reeled at 201/4. 

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