Yuvraj steals the show
North Zone 304 for 7 (Yuvraj 106, Mongia 84, Paul 3-65) v East Zone
Yuvraj Singh stroked a magnificent hundred, but North Zone frittered away their commanding position towards the end of the first day of the Duleep Trophy final at Mohali. Dinesh Mongia partnered Yuvraj in a 197-run stand and, at 285 for 2, North Zone were in cruise control. But Debasis Mohanty and Shib Shankar Paul triggered a middle-order collapse with the second new ball, and inside 20 minutes North were reduced to 288 for 6. After putting North Zone in and being carted to all parts by Yuvraj and Mongia, East Zone were relieved in the end to restrict them to 304 for 7.
But the day belonged to Yuvraj, a surprise last-minute inclusion in the XI. He punched his very first ball confidently from the meat of the bat, a contrast to the openers' patient approach. He survived a huge appeal for caught behind third ball - Paul had already begun wild celebrations before the appeal was turned down. But that was the only uncertain moment in Yuvraj's whole innings, until the run-out that ended it, and he turned on the boosters immediately after lunch. A crisp sweep was followed by some booming back-foot punches as the ball raced to the boundary.
Mohanty and Saurasish Lahiri, the offspinner, dried up the runs with some disciplined bowling but Yuvraj was willing to wait. He finally broke free, creaming one to midwicket, and soon reached 50 in 90 balls. The second half of the innings took only 67 balls, with Utpal Chatterjee the target of Yuvraj's hammer. As he approached his century, his hitting became totally effortless and he reached three figures with a flicked three to midwicket. He finally fell in the 80th over, as Mongia pushed to the covers and sent him back, only for the direct hit to leave Yuvraj short of the crease (285 for 3)
Mongia, who made 84, was hardly noticeable while Yuvraj was stroking away. But Mongia used glides and pushes to good effect. He chipped away the singles, and played the supporting role effectively. Once he had passed his half-century, he drilled some rasping drives, one of them lofted straight over the long-off boundary. He fell soon after Yuvraj, driving uppishly into the hands of Laxmi Ratan Shukla at cover (285 for 4). Mongia later said: "Considering the way I was dismissed, with the ball stopping on me, I expect the wicket to become slower as the match progresses. It will turn from the third day and I am happy we are bowling last."
Mithun Manhas soon fell, padding up without offering a shot, and Joginder Sharma edged one from Paul that was taken by a lunging MS Dhoni behind the wicket (288 for 6). Ajay Ratra and Gagandeep Singh survived a few nervy moments towards the end of the day, with edges falling short of the fielders and balls beating the bat a number of times. Gagandeep eventually fell to what became the last ball of the day, and North Zone will need some stiff tailend resistance tomorrow if they want to reach 350.
The first session was a struggle too, but the openers, Aakash Chopra and Gautam Gambhir, hung on grimly. The first hour contained some raucous appeals, and the sight of both openers letting the ball go past them unimpeded. Mohanty and Paul found the right length on a few occasions, and Chopra was lucky to survive when he was caught half-cock in the second over and rapped on the pads. The first boundary came as late as the 13th over, when Gambhir pulled Mohanty to square leg.
Appeals for lbw were never too far away, but East muffed three crucial opportunities in the field. Chopra was dropped at second slip when he was 13, trying to slap a slightly wide delivery, and two easy run-out chances were missed. East finally got both wickets in quick succession, inevitably leg-before: Chopra (27) missed a straight one from Paul, and Gambhir (46) was beaten by a quicker one from Lahiri that might have missed leg stump (88 for 2). Devang Gandhi admitted: "Our bowlers were a bit wayward in the morning," although he quickly added, "but they brought us back into the game in the end."
Mongia was disappointed that his team had squandered a decent start, but was optimistic about his bowlers' chances: "After being put in to bat at Mohali, a score of 304 is a really good effort," he said. "The ball was keeping low towards the end, and that will encourage our bowlers. They have come back into the game, but we have put the runs on the board."
The first session tomorrow should be interesting. North Zone have four medium-pacers raring to go - among them Ashish Nehra, who is itching to prove his fitness.