It was a day on which ground reality took a hit — well, pitch reality, to be honest. After Day Two, the pitch at the Keenan Stadium was declared ‘dead’, a batsman’s paradise and a bowler’s graveyard. At the end of Day Three, the opinion still holds, with Central bowlers struggling to pierce the defences of the North Zone batsmen in their Duleep Trophy encounter.
At stumps on Sunday, North were comfortably placed at 72 for one in their second innings, 227 runs ahead overall, after dismissing Central for a paltry 288.
North have Ashish Nehra to thank for saving them the toil in the field. Nehra broke the back of Central’s middle-order with a blend of accuracy, pace and unrelenting endeavour. Nehra’s showing was the only brief interlude in which the pitch was compelled to spring to life.
He sent back an ominous-looking TP Singh in the second over of the day and then trapped Abbas Ali in front — the ball moved in after pitching, leaving Ali helpless. Nehra proved if one was willing to work hard, this pitch is not as unaccommodating as thought to be. He also ensnared Anand Rajan when Central were only five runs short of saving the follow-on.
Off-spinner Rajesh Sharma, playing his first Duleep Trophy match, also bowled beautifully, belied his age and stature. Sharma was not afraid to give the ball air and reaped the rewards. He claimed three big wickets — JP Yadav, Naman Ojha and Piyush Chawla — all of whom were threatening to crash North’s party.
His dismissal of Yadav was a classic. The Central skipper went for an extravagant drive but was deceived in flight, the ball turned in sharply and took the inside edge, and Gambhir plucked a neat catch at leg-slip. Aakash Chopra and Gambhir then gave North a solid start in their second essay, putting on 60.
North (1st innings) 443; Central (1st innings): Pagnis c Rawat b Joginder 15, Shivakant c Rawat b VRV 24, TP Singh c Rawat b Nehra 31, Brijesh lbw VRV 9, Abbas Ali lbw Nehra 14, JP c Gautam b Rajesh Sharma 31, Praveen c (sub) Viraat b Gagandeep 8, Ojha st Rawat b Sharma 67, Chawla st Rawat b Sharma 21, Kartik not out 33, Rajan c Rawat b Nehra 0; Extras (b-3, lb-2, nb-29, w-1) 35; Total: 288 all out in 76.3 overs
FoW: 1-43, 2-43, 3-92, 4-97, 5-114, 6-144, 7-164, 8-237, 9-262; Bowling: Nehra 21.3-5-60-3, Gagandeep 12-1-22-1, Joginder 17-2-47-1, VRV 13-0-96-2, Rajesh 13-2-58-3.
North Zone (2nd innings): Chopra c Ojha b Chawla 29, Gambhir batting 33, Ricky batting 2; Extras (b-4, lb-2, nb-2) 8; Total: 72 for 1 in 27 overs
FoW: 1-60; Bowling: Praveen 8-2-16-0, Rajan 13-4-38-0, Chawla 6-1-12-1