Ajinkya Rahane's phenomenal first-class season continued on the first day of the Duleep Trophy final against South Zone in Chennai, his unbeaten century handing West Zone a slight advantage. The theme of the day though was South striking every time West threatened to move into a dominant position: the openers with an aggressive start, then with Wasim Jaffer and Rahane's 77-run stand, and finally after Bhavik Thaker and Rahane had taken West to 297 for 3.
With South playing only two quick bowlers, there was a lot of responsibility on the senior medium-pacer Sreesanth, who is striving to win a place on India's upcoming tour of New Zealand. He was off-colour in the first session though, with opener Parthiv Patel in particular going after him. Sreesanth's fifth over was particularly torrid as he lost his line and needed ten deliveries to complete the over. He redeemed himself with the second new ball, generating some lovely swing and taking two late wickets, first inducing an outside edge to slip off Thaker, and then polishing Abhishek Nayar with a bouncer.
In the morning, the openers gave West a confident start, adding 55 before offspinner R Ashwin trapped Parthiv leg before for 27. Wasim Jaffer was initially content to play second fiddle, but took charge after Parthiv's dismissal. Ashwin was swept from outside off, and legspinner M Suresh was carted over the long-on boundary. Jaffer's half-century came up with a straight drive off Sreesanth and he was looking good for yet another ton, but shouldered arms to a straighter one from left-arm spinner Shadab Jakati which knocked back his offstump.
Cheteshwar Pujara didn't last very long, missing out on a chance to impress the national selectors. He became the second batsman to be lbw to Ashwin when on 14, which reduced West to 163 for 3.
Rahane and Thaker, though, ensured West retained the initiative with a 134-run stand. There was some assistance for South's trio of spinners but Rahane, in particular, handled them with ease. He was generally circumspect against them but took toll of the loose deliveries they offered.
He really opened out after tea, when West were at a comfortable 223 for 3. He repeatedly swept Ashwin, charged down the track to loft Jakati over mid-on before bringing up his eighth first-class century with a pull off Suresh.
Thaker also went on the attack in the third session. He had been lucky to survive when on 33, the short leg fielder grassed a chance. He then tore into Jakati, charging down the track and driving him over mid-on for four, and celebrated reaching his half-century with a couple of sixes off the same bowler.
West were threatening to run away with the game when Sreesanth helped bring South back with his late strikes. The other consolation for South is that West have a pretty long tail: Dhawal Kulkarni, their original No. 8, has a highest first-class score of 26.