When India Red pacer Nathu Singh claimed his second first-class five-wicket haul on Day Two against India Green on Wednesday, it seemed the Duleep Trophy opener would end within three days. In less than four sessions, 20 wickets were down and pacers from either side were making an impression with the pink ball.
However, India Red opener Abhinav Mukund and Sudip Chatterjee both scored centuries to bring the domination of bowlers with the pink cherry to a halt.
The left-handed Mukund was the only batsman to counter the swing, seam and bounce in the first innings, scoring a dogged 77. He was far more authoritative in the second innings with the talented Bengal batsman for company.
Mukund’s unbeaten 162 gave India Red a 354-run lead, but Green paid for dropping the Tamil Nadu batsman twice before he had reached his century.
Chatterjee raced to his sixth first-class century (114) as both batsmen played at a brisk pace, raising 240 runs together.
After both pacers and spinners benefitted on the opening day, the ball didn’t swing or seam as much. “He (Mukund) saw off the new ball and played even better in the second session. He was confident and timed the ball well. Picked the length and line early,” said Robin Uthappa, the India Green opener.
The secret to Mukund’s success was that he simplified a potentially complex situation.
The Tamil Nadu batsman stuck to the basics and he played on the merit of the ball. He was patient as well and spent time to set himself in for a big innings.
The pink ball was swinging and also had seam movement, at least on Day One. The other batsmen, who threw their wickets away, paid the price of being in a hurry. Mukund was calm and composed right through.
He leant on to the drives—he was on top of the ball at all times and was also tight and careful with the balls swinging away from him. Facing spinners, his initial movement was just apt and as soon as he found the length a bit short, he would rock back and execute the cut.
In the second innings, nothing was changed, although Mukund was more confident. His head was steady and he moved with the line of the ball. What followed were shots of effortless elegance.
The best part of Mukund’s innings was his shot selection on the short ball and he played the pull to perfection. In such a situation, where the odd bit of swing and seam was causing trouble, picking the right ball to score was the key and Mukund excelled in doing just that.
It is a season of experiment in India cricket as the Ranji Trophy matches are to be played on neutral venues. Mukund would be happy to have started well against the pink ball. He last played for India on the 2011 tour of England before being dropped. In the Duleep Trophy, his eagerness for a comeback is evident. His 22nd first-class hundred was an example of his improvement in the last five years.
Once set, he played attacking shots, including the upper cut as the pacers struggled for movement under the lights. It was in contrast to the prodigious movement of the pink ball under lights.
But Mukund’s innings had a few chances. Thrice in the second innings, he lost his focus. Twice he was dropped at slip by Suresh Raina, off Pragyan Ojha on 66 and off Jalaj Saxena on 92. Then on 98, he fished at an outgoing delivery from Ankit Rajpoot and was fortunate to survive. Then he went back to the basics. Off the next ball, he shouldered arms. He brought up his century with a wristy flick for two runs.
If Mukund continues to impress throughout the tournament, he can look forward to be in contention as India are due to play a lot of Tests in the home season.
Brief scores: India Red 161 & 344 for 3 (Abhinav 162*, Chatterjee 114) lead India Green 151 (Tiwary 50, Nathu Singh 6-53) by 354 runs.