South Zone made into the Duleep Trophy final with a convincing win against East Zone by an innings and more than 118 runs, major performaces from Robin Uthappa and Stuart Binny. On the other hand Central zone made it into the Final on the basis of First innings lead against the North Zone, major contributions coming from Naman Ojha who scored a Double century.
On the finals day, Robin and Ojha would have been in the spotlight with Saha having fitness issues and a spot in the Indian team might be theirs.Central Zone won the toss and decided to bat on typical Delhi pitch.
As Naman Ojha walked into bat just after lunch on day one with the score on 90 for 2, the 32-year-old would have thought there wouldn’t be an better opportunity for him to make his claim more strong, with two double centuries and two centuries in his last five innings, no one would have thought otherwise. But after five balls and a boundary, he drove an i Baba Aparajith delivery uppishly to mid-off to depart.
Ahead of the game, the wicketkeeper-batsman had said his runs are a reminder to the selectors that he is ready, and a notable knock here would have reaffirmed what he had said, but that was not to be. Naman’s missed opportunity though was made up by Robin Bist for Central Zone. The Rajasthan batsman’s half-century helped his team reach 237 for 7 at the close of play with South spinners taking five out of the seven wickets to fall, on what looked like a green top.
Opting to bat first, Central Zone openers Faiz Faizal and Jalaj Saxena barely managed to play out a tough first hour of play. Saxena struggled throughout his 43-ball 2 before Vinay Kumar (1/33) scalped the Madhya Pradesh batsman. Bist and Fazal, however, denied South more wickets going into lunch at 75 for 1. Fazal looked in a good frame of mind right from the start and took his time in the middle early on. His and his team’s first boundary came as late as the ninth over, but as the Kotla track eased up, run-scoring became a tad bit easier.
While Fazal held firm, Bist started in an enterprising manner and looked at ease against the spinners. He hit Pragyan Ojha for a six over extra cover and followed it up with a well-timed straight drive off legspinner Shreyas Gopal , who was in the team in place of Stuart Binny.
Bist continued to bat in a positive manner and took a liking to medium-pacer HS Sharath (1/49), hammering him for three boundaries in the space of two overs. One was a well controlled pull, the other a silken on-drive and the third a vicious slash past point. Going into lunch, Central would have hoped to build on their good start, until South hit back through an unlikely bowler.
Baba Aparajith, Tamil Nadu’s 20-year-old off-break bowler, removed Fazal for 49 in the third over after lunch and got the big wicket of Naman Ojha in the same over. But Bist looked unfazed and with each scoring shot he was getting better. He reached his 50 in 110 balls and along with Ashok Maneria (37), kept the scorecard ticking.
South skipper Vinay Kumar tried different combinations and used as many as eight bowlers on day one, but it took another break for South to get a breakthrough. With the second session about to end, a bowling change in the form of Hyderabad’s Hanuma Vihari (1/2) forced a loose effort from Maneria and Dinesh Karthik completed a sharp stumping. The pair had combined for 68 runs for the fourth wicket. And in the next over, Gopal got rid of Mahesh Rawat for nought.
Going into tea at 163 for 5, South seemed to have pulled things back but with Bist still in the middle, Central had some hope. And he didn’t disappoint. The 26-year-old showcased his wide array of shots, driving with elegance and confidence in front of the wicket and delicate in executing the late cuts that earned him couple of boundaries behind the stumps.
Bist was looking well set but on 79, a leading edge off the bowling of Pragyan Ojha went straight into the hands of Abhimanyu Mithun standing at midwicket. A dejected Bist walked back, but not before making up to for his twin failures in the semi-final. With all eyes on this game, Bist made an impression where Naman Ojha missed out on.
Central eventually ended the day on 237 for 7 with Piyush Chawla (30) and Arindam Ghosh (32*) combining for a 52-run stand for the seventh wicket before Chawla lost his wicket.
Brief scores, Day 1: Central Zone 237 for 7 in 87 overs (Robin Bist 79, Faiz Fazal 49; Baba Aparajith 2/21) v South Zone