Greater Noida is over 1000 kilometres from Gujarat’s Saurashtra region, but such has been the dominance of its players in this Duleep Trophy that one may be drawn into believing that the series is being played in Rajkot.
A day after Sheldon Jackson and Cheteshwar Pujara created a mountain of runs, Ravindra Jadeja celebrated his retention in the Test side by helping himself to his 21st five-wicket haul in first-class cricket.
India Red were bowled out for 356 runs, a whopping 337 short of Blue’s first innings tally. Skipper Gautam Gambhir decided against enforcing the follow on, and Blues ended Monday at 1 without loss from two overs.
The track for the final was always expected to turn. As far back as the washed out second match of the tournament, UPCA curator Shiv Kumar had told this correspondent that the pitch for final would be a departure from the green tops that were offered in the first two matches, purportedly to give Test regulars enough practice ahead of the first Test against New Zealand, that starts barely a week after the final.
Jadeja kept pitching the ball on the spot, without much change in pace or trajectory. Occasionally, he went a bit wider and bowled slightly round-arm to allow some drift. One such delivery gripped the surface and straightened enough to flatten Gurkeerat Singh’s off-stump after the Punjab all-rounder had scored 57. It also broke the 63-run alliance for the fifth wicket after skipper Yuvraj Singh and Shikhar Dhawan had fallen inside the first hour of the third morning to a mix of stupendous catching and faulty shot selection.
Jadeja is the kind of bowler who thrives on such tracks. South Africa found him unplayable on turning tracks last season, where he helped himself to 23 wickets from four Tests. This pitch too had visible cracks and the odd ball did keep low on the first two days. By Monday, the cracks had widened, and a 2pm start under a baking sun meant the pitch was suitably dry for Jadeja to come into play.
The 27-year-old came under some fire from Stuart Binny, who decided to counter the spiteful pitch with raw power. Binny stepped out at the slightest hint of flight, and the highlight of his innings was the high percentage of runs he got from boundaries --- 72 out of his 98 runs came from hits to the fence or over it. An inside-out six off Karn Sharma stood out for its timing and elegance, as did a flicked six with a helicopter-like flourish over long-on off the same bowler five overs later. He tried a host of ugly swipes and reverse sweeps, but it was the straight-bat shots that got him runs.
He fell as Jadeja’s fourth victim, just two short of what could have been his first first-class ton since February 2014, but even that would have mattered little, coming as it did on the day he was dropped from the Test squad.
In the 90th over of the India Red innings, Amit Mishra drove one to mid-off and Abhimanyu Mithun’s direct hit needed the intervention of the third umpire. As the players and umpires waited for a decision, a young man walked into the ground and had a brief chat with Jadeja. A clutch of policemen, who had made themselves comfortable near the sightscreen, took a while before swinging into action. The invader even waved at the crowd before being taken away. He was found drunk.
Brief scores: India Blue 693/6 dec (Pujara 256*, Jackson 134; Mishra 2/171) and 1/0 vs India Red 356 (Binny 98, Mishra 65; Jadeja 5/ 95)