How do you bowl when the surface is offering you little by way of assistance? That too, after being bowled out for a low score against a strong batting line-up? You can only keep plugging away, live the cliché of "putting it in the right areas" and "being patient and consistent". Occasionally, you can also conjure up a spell that tests batsmen regardless of surface or scoreboard, and prise an opening.
On the third day of the Duleep Trophy 2019-20 final in Bengaluru, that was the only ploy available to India Green. They had been bowled out for 231 on the second day, and with an Abhimanyu Easwaran century powering India Red, damage limitation was their only realistic option. It didn't work as well as it might have, but it also didn't go as badly as it had threatened to, with Red ending the day on 345 for 6, ahead by 114. On another rain-affected day, only 64 overs were bowled, in which Red scored 170 runs at a run rate of 2.67.
The second session turned out to be the key one, in which Tanveer-Ul-Haq and Ankit Rajpoot struck once each. Tanveer was particularly impressive in his second spell of the day, which brought him returns of 7-2-18-1, the wicket being that of Abhimanyu, who had progressed to a serene 153. Tanveer got an inducker to come in sharply. The ball also kept a tad lower than the batsman had budgeted for, and he was hit on the pad in front of the stumps.
That spell also had Tanveer knocking Aditya Sarwate on the gloves with a mean bouncer that was perfectly targeted. He had set up Sarwate for the drive, bowling full and taking the ball away, with two slips, a gully and two more men in the ring on the offside. Then he slipped one in short, rising to the batsman's grille. Sarwate was already committed on the front foot and could do nothing other than awkwardly fend at it. Fortunately for him, the ball didn't carry to a fielder. But he had to receive treatment on his right thumb.
During that spell, Tanveer looked like he might conjure the opening that Green could use to claw their way back in, but Sarwate shook off the blow and carried on. Rajpoot, meanwhile, kept it steady. He had begun the day bowling an eight-over spell, but tying down the batsmen to the extent of returning 8-5-9-0.
Red got only 76 runs in the 37 overs bowled before lunch, losing Ankit Kalsi in the process for a stodgy 30 off 133 balls. Kalsi played percentage cricket, scoring only when he could manipulate the ball into areas he was comfortable, but that meant a general slowing down of momentum too. Green followed up that tight session with two wickets post lunch, though Rajpoot was a tad fortunate to get Mahipal Lomror lbw with replays indicating that the ball seemed to have pitched outside leg and was heading down.
Red still had the opportunity to end the day on a high, but a loose shot by Ishan Kishan - who had already been dropped in the slips by Akshdeep Nath off Rajesh Mohanty - gave Rajpoot his third wicket. However, while the day's battle had been even, the fact that Red had pulled so far ahead in the first two days was reflected in how the teams found themselves placed at stumps.
Fading light and a burst of rain when just four overs had been bowled post tea meant that was it for the day. With a sizeable lead established and only two days' play left, Green will need a lot of things going their way to force an outright result in their favour, while Red are in the comfortable position of being able to sit back and grind the opposition further. They had to do it without Mayank Markande, their batting hero and legspinner, who spent the entire day off the field with a glute strain.