Rahane shines for dominant West Zone
Ajinkya Rahane was out agonisingly close to his second century of the match but his aggressive innings stretched West Zone's lead to a mammoth 492, after his team's spinners Ramesh Powar and Rajesh Pawar took three wickets each to bowl out South for 199. It is unlikely that West will declare before lunch tomorrow after they decided against enforcing a follow on despite a substantial first-innings lead. Even if the South bowlers dismiss West's remaining batsmen cheaply, the task ahead of them is ardous.
The signs were ominous from the outset for South, after Parthiv glanced Sreesanth to the boundary off the first ball of West's second innings. Boundaries were frequently on offer and the West openers scored at an over four-an-over before Wasim Jaffer was given out lbw to Sreesanth off a ball that appeared to be missing leg stump.
Rahane took only two balls to show his class, dispatching a length ball to the square-leg boundary with a trademark flick. He then hit Sreesanth for three fours and neither batsman allowed the South bowlers to settle. The pair had added 110 before Parthiv, struggling with cramps after keeping for over 70 overs, retired hurt.
His departure upset West's momentum and Cheteshwar Pujara and Rahane fell in fairly quick succession. Rahane got a faint edge against S Badrinath and was caught down leg side. He fell for 98 and narrowly missed becoming only the second player after Lalchand Rajput to score two hundreds in a Duleep Trophy final. However, he ended a successful domestic season, in which he was the second-highest run-scorer after Jaffer, on a high.
Bhavik Thaker dealt some heavy blows in his brief innings of 22 before he edged Sreesanth to Rahul Dravid at first slip. The breakthrough came a little too late. South failed to capitalise on favourable conditions for spin bowling, something West had done successfully in the first innings.
West's reply came after South capitulated against spin, S Badrinath's 100 proving the only notable contribution. Powar and Pawar bowled well in tandem with fielders around the bat. Powar got Yadav to flick one straight to Kedar Jadhav at forward short-leg but he was lucky to get R Ashwin given out caught at silly point, though replays didn't conclusively detect an inside edge onto his pads.
Only Badrinath managed to play the spinners, using his feet to force the ball past the infield, though many shots fetched only singles. His only false stroke was a front-foot slash off Dhawal Kulkarni which just cleared second slip. Badrinath greeted Abhishek Nayar with a cheeky whip high over square leg and brought up his century with a clubbed four down the ground off the same bowler.
The difference between the two sides was in the partnerships - West had four in excess of fifty in their first innings, while South had none. The highest South could manage was 43- for the second and eighth wickets - leaving a lot of responsibility on their captain. Support from the other end wasn't forthcoming though, and South's batsmen will need to rectify that shortcoming in order to prevent West from claiming the trophy.