Gritty stand gives Uttar Pradesh the edge
Uttar Pradesh 253 for 3 (Shukla 103*, Parvinder 93*, Balaji 2-53) trail Tamil Nadu 445 by 192 runs
Shivakant Shukla, with a century, and Parvinder Singh came up with the best performances of their careers and an unbeaten 190-run partnership to keep Uttar Pradesh's noses ahead of Tamil Nadu. L Balaji took the big wickets of Suresh Raina and Mohammad Kaif early but Shukla and Parvinder frustrated them for the next six-odd hours. Tamil Nadu didn't help their own case - Parvinder was dropped by Dinesh Karthik when on 20 and 64, and Shukla by M Vijay when on 95 - as UP were left needing 193 runs on the final day to take the first-innings lead and make their third final in four years.
Tamil Nadu struck 13 overs into the day with the wicket of the dangerous Raina who had been subdued yesterday but was back to his fluent self. Twenty-five runs were scored in 19 overs on Monday; today the next 25 came in 5.2 overs. Raina got stuck into Balaji, driving him along the ground and over point. Then, as in the past, he threw away a good start, presenting a gap between bat and pad to Balaji, who was coming from round the wicket. Kaif was involved in two leg-bye boundaries before playing Balaji onto his stumps, and UP were still 382 behind with their two key batsmen dismissed.
TN had their tails up and its showed in the field settings for Shukla and Parvinder - for the first time in the match, four slips and a gully. The confidence was not unjustified; Parvinder, who made his debut in 1999-2000, has been in and out of the team since with a best of 68. Shukla has been a regular member of the side since his debut in 2003-04 but has only two centuries and an average of 24.
What followed was a gritty effort in good batting conditions by two batsmen who'd recorded their previous best scores alongside each other, when adding 137 for the second wicket against Maharashtra earlier this season. Shukla demonstrated good mental strength after having struggled through a tough period yesterday, scoring few runs but not throwing it away. Yesterday he had scored 10 runs in 56 balls and by lunch today he had added 34 in 108 deliveries. Parvinder made a solid start too, moving to 20 by lunch.
Just after lunch, Balaji created another opportunity, but Karthik dropped Parvinder to his right. By that time the pace bowlers had tried their hardest, and Tamil Nadu had to resort to the spinners. Shukla started to score more fluently; in Balaji's next over he flicked to midwicket to reach only his second 50-plus score of the season, and celebrated it with a perfect straight drive in the next over.
The middle session has typically been the best for batting in this match, and so it proved on Tuesday. After Balaji's spell, Tamil Nadu chose to bide their time and tried to limit the damage before they could go for the new ball. With the old ball, though, Parvinder started accelerating, not shying away from hitting the spinners over the infield. With a cover drive off R Ashwin, his seventh boundary, Parvinder reached his fourth half-century of the season. Shukla had reached only 66 by then. Parvinder offered a sharp chance off Suresh Kumar, but Karthik couldn't hold on to it and the ball took his glove before lobbing over the slips.
The new ball was taken as soon as it became available. But Shukla was solid. Driving superbly against the gentle pace of P Amarnath and C Ganapathy, he gained lost ground on his partner and overtook him. However, the nerves showed in the 90s. He edged Amarnath when on 95, but M Vijay failed to hold on. His century came through an edge, too, which flew between Karthik and a wide slip. Towards the end of the day, the scoring stopped again, but it had to do with Tamil Nadu bowling wide of the stumps consistently. Unlike yesterday's struggle, the quiet period towards stumps spelled serenity for UP. The last ten overs yielded only four runs, but Parvinder showed no hurry to reach what would be a maiden hundred.
UP's batting has relied long on Kaif, Raina and Tanmay Srivastava, and other batsmen have wasted good starts too often. By performing the way they did, Shukla and Parvinder may have taken the first steps towards undoing that image.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo