South Zone had their chances but a combination of poor fielding and reckless bowling in the crucial first hour and two precious partnerships helped Sri Lanka A take a first innings lead of 61 runs on Day Two of the Duleep Trophy match in Kolkata on Sunday.
In their bid to stop the islanders from becoming the first foreign team to reach the final of what used to be a competition between the five zones till 2002-03, South erased 24 of the deficit in the last five overs of the day.
Needing an outright win after having conceded the lead, it’s now up to VVS Laxman’s team to make things happen, which means drastic improvement in all departments, including taking 10 wickets in the fourth innings on a pitch which is yet to show alarm signs.
South would feel it should have been much closer, had Venugopal Rao at first slip not dropped Chamara Silva on zero off S Sreesanth, with the scoreboard reading 107 for four. He made full use of the gift, cracking 70 in 80 balls to add 103 runs with Thilan Samaraveera.
Chamara laid the platform for the eventual score with the skipper. Frequent errors in fielding made their task easier, though South were still in with a chance when Samaraweera became the seventh to fall at 254. But an eighth-wicket stand of 58 between Kaushal Silva and Akalanka Ganegama ensured it wasn’t to be.
The former played some pugnacious strokes after being edgy in the initial stages. South needed early wickets to put pressure and Kaushik Reddy got two, in the first and seventh overs of the day.
The Hyderabad seamer was looking for swing and pitching it up, but there was little support from the other end. Sreesanth struggled for rhythm and the principal weapon in Lax- man’s depleted attack had to be replaced after just three overs in the first spell.
Sreesanth bowled a shorter length, the batsmen played him with ease and the South Africa- bound bowler did himself no good by getting involved in a verbal exchange with Jehan Mubarak that earned him a warning from the match referee. He was better off bowling a fuller length later but saw Lax man drop Ganegama at second slip.
V Yo Mahesh too failed after replacing Sreesanth, struggling for direction and length. Like Sreesanth, the India under-19 bowler came back well but it was too late for South, sorely missing a partner for Reddy during the most crucial time of the day.
South Zone (1st innings): 266 Sri Lanka A (1st innings): Vandort b Mahesh 14; Udawatte c Laxman b Kaushik 34, Warnapura lbw b Kaushik 0, TT Samaraweera c Laxman b Mahesh 69, Mubarak lbw b Sreesanth 32, L Silva c Kaarthick b Ojha 70, Chandana c Kaarthick b Sreesanth 6, J Silva c Kaarthick b Kaushik 55, Ganegama c Kaarthick b Kaushik 16, Lakshitha lbw b Mahesh 8, Prasad not out 6; Extras — b 6, lb 7, nb 4 — 17 Total (all out): 327 Fall of Wickets: 1-32, 2-36, 3-57, 4-106, 5- 207, 6-218, 7-254, 8-312, 9-313 Bowling: Sreesanth 21-3-75-2, Kaushik 22-7-57-4, Mahesh 16.3-1-74-3, Ojha 26-5- 89-1, V Rao 2-0-14-0, Laxman 1-0-5-0 South Zone (2nd innings) Kaarthick batting 16, Uthappa batting 7; Extras — w 1 — 1 Total (for no loss): 24 Bowling: Ganegama 3-0-16-0, Prasad 2-0- 8-0