SOUTH ZONE needed just one wicket in almost ten overs to force an outright win over Central Zone, and sail high on confidence into the Duleep Trophy semifinal. But instead of going all out for victory, South, quite strangely, agreed to settle for a draw. This was when Central were staring down the barrel at 255 for 9 in pursuit of 381 on the last day of the quarterfinal contest.
South made it to the semifinal on the basis of their three-run first innings lead, but their decision to settle for a draw on Sunday when they could have pressed for victory does not show them in favourable light.
Central injected some interest in the game when they bowled out South for 377 within 45 minutes in the morning. South resumed at an imposing 345 for 2, but Central fought back well to keep themselves alive. But the game soon slipped away from their hands as they kept losing wickets. Andhra leg-spinner M. Suresh (6 for 84) claimed the first six batsmen and part-time seamer Robin Uthappa picked up the remaining three.
When Central skipper Mohammed Kaif fell for 87, leaving Central reeling at 255 for 9, South needed just one wicket in 9.2 mandatory overs to claim an outright win. But soon after the dismissal, Dinesh Karthik, captaining in the absence of an injured V. V. S. Laxman, vice-captain S. Badrinath and senior pro Rahul Dravid, agreed to call off the match in consultation with Kaif.
South had already progressed to the semis by virtue of their first innings lead, but wasn’t an outright win worth an attempt? Wouldn’t it have boosted their confidence ahead of the semifinal? If nothing else, the decision in a way negated the efforts of Suresh and Uthappa, who shared nine wickets between them to place their team on the threshold of victory.
For Central, the chances of victory were as good as over when they resumed at 207 for six after tea with Kaif batting on 65.
For the record, Central paceman Pankaj Singh finished with an impressive five for 90, picking up all the three wickets to fall after Laxman’s ankle sprain did not allow him to bat. Pankaj exploited the morning moisture and struck with the second delivery, having overnight centurion Karthik caught behind. He then struck twice in succession by sending back L. Balaji and S. Sreesanth.
In reply, South Zone leggie Suresh took the first six wickets to finish with a career-best six for 84. South Zone will now take on defending champions North in Rajkot from January 29.
South Zone 329 & 2nd inn (overnight 345-6): D Karthik c Ojha b Pankaj 103, R. Ashwin not out 27, L. Balaji c Ojha b Pankaj 5, S. Sreesanth b Pankaj 0, V. V. S. Laxman absent hurt; Extras: (b-8, lb-9, w-1, nb-6) 24; Total (all out) 377; FoW: 6-337, 7-345 , 8-377, 9-377; Bowling: Pankaj 23.3-5-90-5, Bhuvaneshwar 23-3-66-2 (nb-6), Umesh Yadav 24-3-88-1, M. Kartik 15-3-56-1, Parvinder 4-1-17-0, P. Chawla 9-0-43-0
Central Zone 326 & 2nd inn: T. Srivastava c & b Suresh 44, S. Shukla c Dravid b Suresh 31, Y. Goud c Uthappa b Suresh 10, M. Kaif c sub (Bandekar) b Uthappa 87, Parvinder c Karthik b Suresh 34, N. Ojha c Karthik b Suresh 2, B. Kumar c Uthappa b Suresh 7, P. Chawla c sub (Pai) b Uthappa 22, M. Kartik c sub (Jakati) b Uthappa 0, Pankaj not out 5; Extras: (b-1, lb-7, nb-5) 13; Total (for 9 wkts) 255; FoW: 1-71, 2-86, 3-98, 4-155, 5-161, 6-184, 7-232, 8-232, 9-255; Bowling: Balaji 5-1-17-0, Sreesanth 11-1-43-0, Uthappa 8.4-1-26-3, Ashwin 23-1-77-0, Suresh 20-1-84-6