Central Zone 326 for 9 (Ojha 85, Kaif 73, Sreesanth 3-92) trail South Zone 329 by 3 runs
Piyush Chawla and Murali Kartik had a horror day with the ball on Thursday, but their streaky, quickfire 57-run eighth-wicket stand put Central within touching distance of the all-important first-innings lead after the second day against South Zone in Bangalore. Their efforts built on half-centuries from captain Mohammad Kaif and Naman Ojha, who started the recovery after the top-order crumpled to South's fast bowlers. The day ended with the contest on the knife edge: Central need four runs to sneak in front, but South need just one wicket before that, with Central's first-day hero and last man Umesh Yadav to take strike on the third morning.
South would not have been in this precarious position if their fielders had turned in a better show, as Kartik benefitted from two missed chances -a low difficult opportunity to Rahul Dravid's left at a wide first slip, and a far more straightforward catch for Abhinav Mukund at square leg with Central still trailing by 22.
Robin Uthappa, bowling medium pace, maintained a stump-to-stump line to trouble Chawla and Kartik - there were two close lbw calls, with the ball pitching marginally outside leg on both occasions. Amid these slew of chances, Chawla and Kartik unleashed some glorious drives and cuts. The best of the lot was Chawla's drive past mid-off after advancing down the track to Uthappa - it was so elegant that the batsman held the following-through for the cameras.
Chawla finally fell after an ugly, across-the-line swipe to offspinner R Ashwin swirled to VVS Laxman at cover, with the score on 323. Three runs later, off the day's final over, Pankaj Singh was lbw to L Balaji, rapped on the back leg when trying to turn one to midwicket. That brought to an end the day's proceedings on a tense note.
It hadn't looked like Central would need the tail to wag when they were at 265 for 5, with Naman Ojha and Bhuvneswar Kumar going strong. Ojha had capitalised on several grassed chances to help Central claw back into the game through his stand with Kaif.
It was Kaif who got the runs flowing after a soporific start. Uthappa was pulled in front to midwicket for a one-bounce four and two balls later was powerfully dismissed through extra cover. He then took on the spinners, with legspinner M Suresh launched over long-on and then slog-swept past midwicket.
He went into lunch at 47 off 50, but was becalmed after the break. There were a couple of authoritative pulls off Sreesanth but by the time he fell to Suresh for 73, his strike-rate had sunk to around 60.
Ojha did most of the scoring in the second session. There were several pokes past the slips for four against the quick bowlers but he was at ease against the slow bowlers. Ashwin was greeted with a slog sweep for four, after which Ojha was content pushing him for singles down to long-on till he reached his half-century. After going past that milestone, he twice lifted Ashwin over the sightscreen.
Bhuvneswar was also harsh on Ashwin, repeatedly cover-driving him against the turn. He was solid but fell against the run of play: four balls after Ojha's dismissal, he nibbled a delivery outside off from Uthappa to the keeper. Uthappa, a part-time bowler, could barely conceal his delight at getting his second wicket.
It was his first strike that sparked Central's collapse in the morning, as Tanmay Srivastava glanced one down the leg side to Dinesh Karthik. Shivkant Shukla, the other opener, was cleaned up by a big indipper from Sreesanth, a loose prod at a wide delivery accounted for Yere Goud, and Parvinder Singh was lbw to Sreesanth. Central's top order, which almost read like a Who's Who of Indian domestic cricket's titans of tedium, was dismantled as four wickets went down for 26 runs. At that stage South were in control, but that was before Central's middle and lower order got into the act.