Sri Lanka A's only chance to keep alive their hopes in the Duleep Trophy final was to pick early wickets on Day Two and come up with a seriously disciplined effort in the field after being bowled out for 296 on a good batting wicket on Sunday.
They struck in the first over on Monday, bowled and fielded with some diligence only to be stonewalled by a second-wicket stand of 214 spanning over five hours. Aakash Chopra and Ravneet Ricky scored solid centuries in the process to put North Zone in a position from where losing the advantage would take some doing.
Their first-innings lead is only of 25, but they have lost just two wickets and if they again avoid conceding ground in the first hour and go on to get a big total, this match can go one way only. However, it's a one-ball game for batsmen and North need another extended exhibition of patience to weed out all possibilities of a Sri Lankan comeback.
There was an air of quiet and professional ruthlessness in the way Chopra and Ricky went about their task after Gautam Gambhir fell on the second ball of the morning. It was a rising one off a good length from Ishara Amarasinghe and the left-hander got a bottom edge while trying to take his bat away from it.
The islanders thought they were back in the game when Ricky edged Akalanka Ganegama in the next over, but wicketkeeper Kaushal Silva failed to latch on to the ball despite getting a glove to it diving low towards his right. The ball did a bit for the next few overs and Sri Lanka A's chances started disappearing with the early freshness after that.
The cricket that followed was far from spectacular as Chopra and Ricky concentrated hard to negotiate the tight line bowled by the Sri Lankans, who stuck to one side of the wicket and made the batsmen play most of the balls.
The opener was a picture of concentration, showing excellent judgement of where his off stump was and drove exquisitely through the off-side to score most of his 18 boundaries. The India discard was like a hermit at the wicket, detaching himself from the external world and playing each of the 307 balls he faced with equal watchfulness.
Chopra's 15th first-class century was his first at this level in three years. If he plays a similar innings in the first few Ranji Trophy games, he might come in contention for the third opener's slot ahead of Gambhir when the selectors meet to pick the Test squad for South Africa as Dilip Vengsarkar has said that tight technique is what he is looking for.
Ricky was more adventurous, on-driving left-arm spinner Rangana Herath against the spin, going over the top at times, but by and large patience was the hallmark of his 11th first-class hundred too. Offering a straight bat just like Chopra, this Punjab opener batting at No 3 here, played according to the need of his team.
The going was slow, as just 86 came off 34 overs before lunch, but the intensity of the contest didn't suffer because of that. The approach of the right-handers looked dull at times, but it was dour totally devoid of frills, yet brimming with a sense of purpose. The Sri Lankans kept toiling without any encouragement from the pitch and it was one of those days when only the hard work of the batsmen got rewarded.
Amarasinghe was the pick of the bowlers, bowling a testing line and length outside off, but there was not enough bite to trouble the batsmen who refrained from taking risks. Herath bowled maximum overs, in seven spells and from both ends trying the over the wicket outside leg line too, but his efforts were calmly blunted.