West Zone overcame an assorted attack of spin bowling to end Day One of their Duleep Trophy final against South at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai on Thursday on a high.
That spinners would have a huge role to play here was expected, but the fact that they came into play as early as the ninth over said a lot about the slowness of the pitch.
Ajinkya Rahane (109*, 217b, 14x4, 2x6) and Bhavik Thaker (73, 136b, 9x4, 2x6) held the West innings together after Wasim Jaffer won the toss. Jaffer’s men finished the day at 303 for five with the captain himself laying a strong foundation with 69 and raising 55 with Parthiv Patel for the first wicket.
The 134-run fourth-wicket stand between Rahane and Thaker dashed South’s hopes of restricting North. It might be too early to write South off yet, but with spinners having already bowled 69 overs in the day, it will be difficult for South to overhaul West’s eventual first innings total.
South would consider themselves fortunate to have opted for a five-man attack after medium-pacer Vinay Kumar withdrew due to a side spasm while bowling. Sreesanth, who was off tangent in his first 11 overs, was better towards the end when he took two crucial wickets in three overs with the second new ball. His outswinger broke the Rahane-Thaker partnership, the Gujarat right-hander edging to Rahul Dravid at first slip.
When South’s best off-spinner on the day, R. Ashwin, trapped Patel leg before with a straighter one, it looked that spin would dominate. South had leg-spinner M. Suresh and left-arm spinner Shadab Jakati to trouble the West line-up.
With substantial turn in the offing, it made batting difficult. Batting on such pitches tests the class of the willow wielders as much as it requires the bowlers to pick the right areas and exploit the conditions.
On Thursday, it were the West batsmen that fared better. Jaffer steadied the ship initially before being foxed by Jakati.
Jaffer assumed that the ball would turn away after pitching on off, but instead, kept its line to rattle the off-stump. When Cheteshwar Pujara was trapped on the back thigh with another straighter one from Ashwin, South were celebrating with West at 163 for three.
Rahane was unperturbed by the turn and played his strokes freely, largely off the back foot. He did not play a silly stroke and, in Thaker’s company, dominated the South bowling, raising his fifth century of the season and eighth of his career.