Uttar Pradesh v Tamil Nadu, Ranji Trophy, Group B, 2nd day November 22, 2013

UP look for lower-order push against TN

Uttar Pradesh 171 for 5 (Dagar 69, Prashant 55*) trail Tamil Nadu 297 (Prasanna 118, Aparajith 60, Crist 58, Imtiaz 4-79) by 126 runs

Tamil Nadu's tail-end batsmen stretched the total close to 300 on the second morning, and Uttar Pradesh will need similar defiance from their lower order if they are to match that first-innings score in Meerut. Mukul Dagar and Prashant Gupta struck half-centuries for UP, but with Tamil Nadu making regular breakthroughs, the visitors ended the day clearly ahead.

In the first over after lunch, Mohammad Kaif fell for 13, nicking a catch to slips, extending a barren spell for the batsman that has stretched to nearly a year. He hasn't made a first-class half-century in seven innings in this season. With Suresh Raina tied up on national duty, UP need more from their most experienced batsman, who was their top run-scorer last season.

Dagar, UP's second highest run-getter in the Ranji Trophy last year, continued his solid start to this season. He was unfazed by the early loss of Tanmay Srivastava, and got going with a fierce pull off L Balaji for four. After that, much of his runs came on the off side, with watchful spells sandwiching bursts of boundaries, including three in a single over from the fast bowler Sunil Sam. There were plenty of controlled dabs to third man and drives through cover as he reached his third successive half-century.

The 22-year-old, Delhi-born Dagar began his career with Haryana in 2010, before switching over to UP. He still looks stocky, even after shedding plenty of weight, but that wasn't the focus as he played a confident knock, looking set for his fourth first-class century, especially after he survived a loud lbw appeal on 60 off Malolan Rangarajan. Instead, he went for a lofted drive against the spin of Aushik Srinivas, and could only chip a low catch to Balaji at mid-off. UP slipped to 114 for 3.

That score soon turned to 123 for 4 as Srinivas struck again, bowling the local batsman Parvinder Singh, who stayed back to a delivery that stayed low. At that stage, Tamil Nadu had edged ahead. None of the Tamil Nadu bowlers really dominated the UP batsmen; unlike in the Tamil Nadu innings, the batsmen weren't beaten as often outside off.

The man who was chiefly responsible for preventing UP from sliding further was Prashant Gupta, who, even five years after his debut, is playing only his eighth first-class match. This is his first Ranji match of the season, after a couple of moderate games last year. His half-century was littered with effortless cover drives and a couple of powerful hits over the spinners' head towards the sightscreen.

The closest he came to being dismissed was when Srinivas drew him forward and beat him past the outside edge well before tea. It took the third umpire about four minutes before a green flag was waved to indicate Prashant was safe.

Arish Alam kept him company for much of the final session, and though there were a couple of stylish drives, Alam had a couple of narrow escapes - a run-out chance and a loud lbw appeal - before he was snapped up by Malolan in the fading light, minutes before stumps.

With the pitch providing something for the bowlers in the first hour, UP's batsmen have a challenge on their hands on Saturday.

Siddarth Ravindran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo