Batting on, North play kill-game
It was a kind of day that lends credence to the perception that domestic cricket is dour and soporific, offering a spectacle that is a far cry from the much more exciting world of international cricket.
The Indian Board might be doing its best to extract domestic cricket from the morass it has wallowed in, to make it an 'enriching experience’, as one Board official claimed recently. But if the game continues to witness too much of what transpired at the Keenan Stadium here on Monday in the Duleep Trophy match between North and Central Zone, then good luck to the BCCI!
With the match effectively killed off on Sunday evening by North's bewildering decision to not enforce the follow-on, and off-field events capturing the players' attention — the Indian ODI team for South Africa was announced on Monday, and a couple of players in action here were discussed - the final day became an ordeal to watch.
The match progressed at a pace that would have disgraced a snail and players seemed to be just going through the motions - virtually all of them lacked vitality and intent.
Finally, when the stumps were uprooted to signal the end, with just four of the 15 mandatory overs bowled, the Central Zone had crawled to 102 for four in 38 overs, after North had set them an improbable target of 375 to win in 49 overs. North, hence, took the all-important first-innings lead while Central bowed out of the tournament.
Earlier, an adrenaline-fuelled burst from impetuous Central medium-pacer Praveen Kumar saw North collapse dramatically from 175 from three to 219 for 9.
While the rest of the Central bowlers had resigned themselves to their fate, it was heartening to see Praveen's no-holds-barred approach and his indomitable spirit. Praveen was introduced when the North batsmen were threatening to mount another big total but he put paid to their plans by bowling a superlative spell that read 6.5-1-16-5.
His five-wicket haul was richly deserved as he mixed his deliveries superbly and slipped in a bouncer occasionally to ruffle the opposing batsmen. Yashpal Singh, Mitthun Manhas, Mahesh Rawat, Joginder Sharma and Ashish Nehra all fell prey to his guile.
Gautam Gambhir followed his 70 in the first innings with a 84. From a vigilant player of the last evening, Gambhir grew into a relentless accumulator of runs this morning and produced some delectable glides, punches
and drives to prolong Central's misery.
He was dismissed 16 short of his century when he scooped an innocuous Piyush Chawla delivery straight to midwicket. Yashpal was his usual spiffy best at the crease and made 32 before he prodded tentatively at a Praveen delivery and was snapped at second slip.
First innings centurions Rawat and Sharma, meanwhile, learned about the great levelling qualities of the game, being dismissed for 0 and 12, respectively.
Central's riposte was a drab one, with only skipper JP Yadav taking the game to the North bowlers, who hustled through their overs in a bid to avoid the slow-bowling penalty, bowling, consequently, with a lot less intensity.