The Lahli track was supposed to assist the fast bowlers early on and East Zone, after beating West Zone with the help of their pacers in the quarter-finals, would have hoped to take few early wickets in their semi-final fixture against South Zone but that was no to be. South dominated two sessions riding on Robin Uthappa‘s fifteenth first-class ton, but led by domestic veteran Laxmi Ratan Shukla, East came back well in the final session to restrict their rivals to 238 for 9 on Day 1.
East Zone, packed with five fast bowlers to exploit the maximum out of the conditions, paid the price for fielding a one-dimensional attack and together with a couple of missed chances early on, could only watch Uthappa bat out two and a half sessions without any trouble before a lapse in concentration led to his downfall in the 72nd over for 120.
Uthappa had a got a life on 118, when in a bid to clear long-on, he skied the ball only to see Shukla making a mess of it at mid-on. The 28-year-old though nicked an outside off delivery to depart in the very next over. That mistake then opened the floodgates as South went on to lose their next five wickets for just 27 runs.
Shukla had been East’s best bowler on show sticking to a good length and bowling a probing line all day long, and when the new ball was taken he took the lead and finished with impressive figures of 4 for 30 in his 17 overs. Ashok Dinda chipped in with two wickets while Varun Aaron went wicketless. Put into bat by East Zone skipper Manoj Tiwary, South Zone, featuring eight players from Karnataka were very cautious at the start. The Lahli track though had a green cover but KL Rahul, the South Zone opener who got out for 21 to a peach of a delivery from Shukla, later said the ball was stopping on to the bat.
There is nothing better for a batsman to grab attention than scoring runs consistently, and on a bright day at Lahli, Uthappa continued his rich vein of form. The Karnataka batsman was not able to play last year’s Duleep Trophy owing to an injury after which he missed over half of the Ranji season. Since then he has struck gold and even though he missed the cut for the Sri Lanka series, the mature knock here will keep him in good stead ahead of the Australia tour.
That could have been the reason why Uthappa started slow. The East Zone bowling attack, reinforced by the inclusion of Aaron was very sluggish at the start with the Jharkhand bowler not able to get his rhythm going in the first dig while Dinda got carried away by the green tinge and bowled short. Uthappa got a reprieve in the 7th over when Sudip Chatterjee dropped a regulation catch at third slip. That was the only time Dinda managed to pitch it up in his first spell but bettered his figures in the final session bagging the wickets of Stuart Binny and Pragyan Ojha.
Going into lunch, South Zone managed 63 for the loss of one wicket and with the hard task of getting off to a good start done, Uthappa opened up and started to time the ball well. Along with another Karnataka batsman, Karun Nair, he stitched together a 94-run stand. He then joined forces with Manish Pandey (26) for 74-run partnership and it looked like South Zone had overcome the demons of Lahli. However, the three Karnataka batsmen – Rahul, Nair and Pandey got starts but failed to capitalise.
In the final session, Uthappa was given a hard time by Aaron who cranked it up as the batsman was nearing his century but after getting to his hundred, the 28-year-old tried to up the ante at the wrong time and perished. From there on, Shukla took over and used the lateral movement well to leave the South Zone batsmen in trouble. Their big guns Dinesh Karthik (9) and Binny (5) too failed to create an impression.
Brief Scores : South Zone 238/9 in 86.5 overs (Uthappa 120, Karun Nair 32; Lakshmi Ratan Shukla 4/30) vs East Zone at Lahli.