Paliwal, Yadav push UP to the edge
Uttar Pradesh 134 and 138 for 4 (Srivastava 54, Yadav 4-33) lead Services 263 (Paliwal 112, Rajpoot 5-61) by nine runs
The underdog continued to bite chunks out of the big opponent's reputation on day two in Indore. In the morning, young Rajat Paliwal played probably the innings of his short career to give Services a lead of 129 on a difficult pitch. As Uttar Pradesh resisted in their second innings the way a top side should, fast bowler Suraj Yadav squeezed out four wickets through sheer relentlessness. After two days of excitement on the best surface produced for this season's Ranji quarter-finals, the best side of the league stage are still not out, but they are not in it by much either.
Services had earned a narrow lead by stumps on day one with positive, unhindered batting. They raised the bar on the second morning. Knowing that a batsman was never in on the green, bouncy Holkar Stadium pitch, they attacked at the slightest opportunity. The efforts of Paliwal and Sarabjit Singh, whose partnership doubled the score from 97 for 5, brought 109 runs in just over two hours.
The duo was beaten repeatedly outside off stump, especially Sarabjit and their gloves were battered by short balls - Paliwal had a large, bulging blister on his right forefinger - but the boundaries still came. A flail over slips by Sarabjit; a slash over gully and an upper-cut over the third-man boundary by Paliwal.
Even as Services raced towards 200, Ankit Rajpoot, in his first over of the day, had Sarabjit edging one low to Mohammad Kaif at first slip on 40. Yadav edged a lifter to the wicketkeeper next ball, and with an injured captain, Soumik Chatterjee, doubtful to bat, there wasn't much batting left. Which is when Paliwal opened up further.
He also began to farm the strike, taking singles towards the end of overs. When Piyush Chawla was introduced, Paliwal drilled his first ball to the deep extra-cover boundary, pulled the legspinner over midwicket for four and in the same over, lofted him for a flat six over extra cover.
By now, Paliwal was unstoppable. He played the hook liberally as UP overdid the short stuff, and lofted Rajpoot to the straight boundary to reach his fourth hundred of the season. Chawla, for the umpteenth time in his career reduced to bowling flat and quick, was taken for successive fours even by No 10 Shadab Nazar. What this match meant to Services was evident when Chatterjee limped out after Nazar was bowled by a Rajpoot yorker. The Services captain was caught in front first ball to give Rajpoot his fifth, but there was no doubting Services' desperation in a rare knockout game for them.
UP had to face about three overs before lunch, which was taken during the third when Mukul Dagar was given caught behind pushing forward to Yadav. Kaif, the stand-in UP captain, and Srivastava now battled, just like Sarabjit and Paliwal had. They were beaten repeatedly as well but hung on.
As a rather harsh winter sun shone on the ground, Services' attack, comprising just three fast bowlers and a part-time medium-pacer, started flagging. But Yadav somehow summoned the energy to produce successive wicket-taking deliveries.
Kaif, who had survived three lbw appeals in a Nishan Singh over, was caught in front on 33 by one that drew him forward and straightened past the bat. Yadav did it again next ball, a similar delivery zipping past Parvinder Singh's push to flatten the off stump.
UP would have sunk further had Yadav not overstepped while having Srivastava caught behind on 32. Srivastava had been calmly leaving them outside off all this while, and along with the solid Arish Alam, steadied UP again. Yadav had more reserves left still. He dug one in at Srivastava late in the day, the opener was snapped up by the keeper again, and this time, it was a legal delivery.
UP had played a spinning allrounder in Chawla and a spinner in Ali Murtaza on a grassy wicket, which meant it was the last batting pair of Alam and Eklavya Dwivedi at the crease now. The pair took UP into the lead, which at effectively 9 for 4 isn't much of a lead.
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo