North need 92 more to clinch trophy
VRV Singh got his second five-for of the match as West Zone batsmen played one injudicious shot after the other, and despite a middle-order resistance they were bowled out in two sessions to set North Zone an easy 166 to get, with two days and a session to go. North Zone ended the third day with 92 more to get and seven wickets in hand.
The first over of the day set the tone, when Sahil Kukreja played a loose drive to the first delivery that was not pitched on legs, and edged it through to Uday Kaul, the wicketkeeper. North did not look to capitalise on the early breakthrough as VRV continued to spray the ball around, and Vikramjeet Malik - although getting the inswing going - had problems with no-balls.
Wasim Jaffer and Ajinkya Rahane got a partnership going, and scored at a fairly good pace. But after overs of innocuous bowling, Ashok Thakur got one to land on a length and dip in towards Jaffer, who looked to play without any feet movement, and presented a gap between bat and pad. Parthiv Patel soon got his second awkward lifter of the match, which he jabbed to first slip. Cheteshwar Pujara completed his pair by going for an expansive drive to an inswinger, leaving his stumps vulnerable. In 5.4 overs, 56 for 1 became 70 for 4, with a lead of just fours runs.
A brief partnership between Rahane, who was impressive once again in his innings of 43, and Yusuf Pathan was ended by a harsh call from AV Jayaprakash. Rahane was hit on the thigh pad by one from VRV that cut in but was going over the top of the stumps. With half the side out for a lead of just 42, two Baroda players - Rakesh Solanki and Pathan - counterattacked, exposing the North bowlers. Pathan, who had already got off to a quick start by the time Rahane got out (21 off 17 balls), took the attack to the next level and turned the attention away from Solanki. Soon the field spread out, Amit Mishra was brought on, and defensive bowling became the call of the hour.
Pathan still managed to find gaps, whipping through mid-on, thrashing through covers, edging over slips, late-cutting through third man, sweeping through square leg, and lofting over the infield. Mishra, who had been swept for two fours by Pathan, finally got the breakthrough: bowling from round the stumps, he tossed one up, and Pathan backed his sweep, only to top-edge to short fine leg. Pathan ended up scoring 61 out of the 97 runs scored by West since his arrival at the crease. His 59-run partnership with Solanki in 10.4 overs made sure the game would not end on the third day itself.
The North bowlers became lackadaisical once again and Solanki and Rakesh Dhurv took advantage. For more than 19 overs, they could only create one half-chance - a caught-and-bowled for Mishra - and a regulation chance for Kaul in Rajat Bhatia's first over, which he duly dropped. Dhurv had scored 31 by then, but North got a breakthrough when Solanki uppercut VRV straight to third man. The tail folded easily, the last four wickets falling for nine runs. Three cheap dismissals gave VRV his second first-class ten-wicket haul. He now has 18 wickets from two Duleep Trophy matches.
Chasing 166, North got off to a solid start just like in the first innings, and it seemed they would come close to rattling off the required runs today itself. But as had happened in the first innings, the fall of Aakash Chopra led to more wickets. Chopra got a dodgy lbw verdict, and Karan Goel followed after, ending what has been a horrible match for him, with a poke to an away-going delivery, just like he had in the first innings. He managed to get a run this time, though. When Mithun Manhas edged Trivedi to second slip, North had lost three wickets for 12 runs, and at that moment West Zone had a chance to sneak back.
Shikhar Dhawan, meanwhile, had got off to a brisk start, having scored 25 off 27 balls out of the team score of 40. With his captain back in the pavilion, Dhawan adjusted to the situation, taking on the responsibility even as Yashpal Singh looked extremely edgy. Dhawan cut down on his shots without slowing down much, but there was a clear change in his attitude, suggesting he wanted to be there till the end. His scoring before the collapse had been attractive and imperious, but following it, he became more solid. He was also offered a reprieve when Sandeep Jobanputra, who bowled a testing spell of inswing bowling, dropped Dhawan off his own bowling: Dhawan was 27 then, and North had only got to 47.
By the end of the day, Dhawan had added 17 more, ensured there were no more setbacks, and North were about one session of sensible batting short of a second successive Duleep Trophy triumph.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo