Central Zone bounce back to even up game
Central Zone 276 and 214 for 4 (Fazal 72, Saxena 71) lead South Zone 379 (Rahul 185, Uthappa 80, Vihari 75, Murtaza 4-59) by 111 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
One and a half hours of woeful shot selection diminished South Zone's control of the Duleep Trophy final. Central Zone made them suffer further with half-centuries Faiz Fazal and Jalaj Saxena laying the foundation for a 111- run lead by the end of the third day.
Spin, or the expectation of it, was South's undoing. The first incision was made when KL Rahul misread a straighter delivery from the opposition captain Piyush Chawla and was dismissed for 185. The ball had dribbled through between an uncertain prod, deflected off the pads and rattled off stump. After that, five batsmen came and went for the addition of 20 runs and South were all out for 379.
Hanuma Vihari took his task of keeping the run-rate healthy a little too seriously and dragged Ali Murtaza onto his stumps off a wild slog. He had promised a lot more than 75 off 97 when he had lifted Chawla over his head and cracked Saxena for 11 runs in the 80th over. The commentators had been discussing about Central Zone waiting for the new ball, but Chawla had other ideas.
Namely Murtaza, whose assortment of left-arm sliders gave him four wickets for 13 runs in five overs in the morning. Not that he darted the balls in, but there was no spin on offer to him. Vinay Kumar and Abhimanyu Mithun found that out as they were out lbw while playing outside the line.
Central's openers consolidated on the bowlers' work with a partnership of 128. Both Saxena and Fazal were highly partial to driving the ball off the front foot and the seamers' search for swing resulted in an anti-climax. There were boundaries on offer in every over except the the first, second, ninth and tenth overs and Saxena compensated for the brief drought with three fours in the 11th. Central Zone went to lunch at 68 for 0 in 12 overs.
Things slowed down after lunch, with the first 20 overs yielding only 38 runs. Both players had eased past their half-centuries, but not without their share of close calls. Fazal had a tendency to plant his front leg too far across and Saxena looked less assured when he was forced onto the back foot, and reached his half-century off an inside edge to the fine-leg boundary.
South were able to strike a few late blows to keep the match in the balance though. Pragyan Ojha pitched several leg before appeals at the umpire before he landed one right to dismiss Saxena for 71. His partner was undone by a bouncer from Vinay Kumar after he had pulled the previous ball to the square leg boundary.
The pitch had sported some cracks at the start of the day, but they presented false promises to the spinners. Shreyas Gopal somehow lured some turn and bounce to take Naman Ojha's outside edge to slip and was fortunate to dismiss Ashok Menaria when he chose to play back to a big legbreak that would have slid down leg to all eyes, except Umpire Anil Chaudhary's. South Zone will need the Central Zone batsmen have such lapses in concentration tomorrow.
Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo