Services 154 for 5 (Paliwal 36*, Imtiaz 3-54) lead Uttar Pradesh 134 (Imtiaz 53*, Nazar 5-51) by 20 runs
This is what an underdog can do when it looks beyond reputation. After all, the favourites, no matter how formidable, are only as good as they bat, bowl and fields on a given day. On Sunday, Services were better than Uttar Pradesh on all three counts, and ended the first day of their Ranji Trophy quarter-final with a small lead and five wickets in hand, something hardly any outsider could have predicted at the start.
Unlike UP, the Holkar Stadium pitch did justice to its reputation. This was the only quarter-final where the side winning the toss chose to field, and the reason was quite clear. The pitch was green, there was sharp bounce in the morning, even from a good length, and there was seam movement. The three Services fast bowlers, Suraj Yadav, Nishan Singh and Shadab Nazar were eager and persevering, and a shell-shocked UP went to lunch at 76 for 7, which turned to 76 for 8 in the first over after the break.
Fast bowler Imtiaz Ahmed's manic hitting brought 58 for the final two wickets and UP's highest wicket-taker of the season then reduced Services to 97 for 5 before youngster Rajat Paliwal and the veteran wicketkeeper Sarabjit Singh carried Services into ascendency.
The UP openers Tanmay Srivastava and Mukul Dagar had batted quite safely for close to 50 deliveries in the morning and though they had been tested, there was no indication of the wicket deluge that was to come. In his fourth over, Nishan got one to kick at and move away from Dagar, who could only edge it to the wicketkeeper.
Mohammad Kaif, who survived a couple of lbw appeals padding up outside off stump, was slightly late in getting forward as Nishan bent one back in. That was enough to trap him in front given the zip in the surface.
Nazar, in his debut season, and bowling with an energetic run-up, brought one back to hit the promoted keeper Eklavya Dwivedi high on the pad, and the appeal was upheld. Parvinder Singh and Arish Alam also became Nazar's victims. Parvinder cut to gully for a sharp take, and Alam steering tamely to second slip.
The attacking approach wasn't out of place on this pitch, as all the defending wasn't enough to save you when the really good delivery arrived, or when your patience failed you. Srivastava, after facing 71 deliveries cautiously, pushed outside off stump to Yadav and was caught behind.
From 50 for 6, UP reached 134 through all-out attack from Piyush Chawla and Imtiaz. Chawla swung Yadav over extra cover, check-drove him down the ground and smashed him past mid-off in the same over. Off what was to be the final delivery of the morning session, though, he thick-edged a swipe to first slip off Nishan.
Imtiaz's assault stunned Services after the break as it rained six after six. At one stage, Services had seven men in the deep against the last pair of Imtiaz and Sudeep Tyagi. Imtiaz was even caught on the long-off boundary, but the fielder stepped onto the rope. He was soon raising his bat to the dressing room for his maiden first-class fifty off just 31 deliveries, but the fun ended when Tyagi edged a flail to the keeper off Yadav.
Services might not have cared much for it, but UP had their reputation to protect, and came hard with the new ball. Services were in no mood to let up. The opening pair of Nakul Verma and Anshul Gupta, both in their debut seasons, began positively to add 43 in 12 overs. UP also dropped both batsmen. Keeper Dwivedi dived in front of Kaif at first slip the first time, and Chawla the culprit in the slips in the second instance.
Imtiaz did it all by himself to earn the breakthrough, angling one in to catch Gupta in front. Kaif snapped a low catch at first slip off Verma's outside edge, and pointed to the dressing room as if to say that was how you took them.
Avishek Sinha and Soumya Swain chopped shortish deliveries onto their stumps, and Yashpal edged a lifting Imtiaz length ball to the keeper. UP were close to making it an even day, but Paliwal and Sarabjit calmed Services nerves.
Their cover-driving was a treat to watch, as they stepped forward with confidence and hit the gaps repeatedly. Unless Services can build a huge lead, going past UP's 134 might not be of much consequence in this five-day match, but they can look back at day one and proudly march off to their barracks.