Central Zone spinners, led by captain Piyush Chawla, weaved magic on a helpful track to steer the team to the Duleep Trophy title with a thrilling nine-run triumph over South Zone in Delhi on Sunday.
Chasing a victory target of 301, South needed 117 runs on the final day with nine wickets intact. But on a pitch that was offering substantial turn, South lost 7 wickets for 39 runs to hand over the trophy to Chawla and co.
From a relatively comfortable 252 for three, they were all out for 291 in 88.4 overs.
Spin troika of Chawla (3/83 in 20 overs), Ali Murtaza (3/59) and Jalaj Saxena (2/44) shared the bulk of the spoils but it was Pankaj Singh (2/45)’s morning spell that started turning the complexion of the game.
Out of 13 sessions of play, South dominated 10 but the three dominated by Central turned the course of the game. KL Rahul (185 and 130), despite a superb effort, ended on the losing side mainly due to inept shot selection by his teammates.
It was an exciting fifth morning where there was a good contest between bat and ball. It turned out to be the best 22-yard strip produced at Feroz Shah Kotla in recent times, by one of the youngest BCCI curator Ankit Datta.
The wicket lasted five days with something for everyone from batsman, pacers and spinners.
Starting the day at 184 for one, centurion KL Rahul (130) and Baba Aparajith (56) played out the first hour before Pankaj Singh struck with old ball.
He bowled one that landed on a crack and kept low getting Rahul plumb in-front. The youngster’s innings had played 152 balls hitting 14 fours and five sixes. Dinesh Karthik (0) bagged a ‘pair’ , falling to Pankaj reducing South to 203 for three.
Aparajith was unduly subdued on Sunday when situation demanded him to play positively as Chawla and Jalaj bowled with a lot of control.
Ramaswamy Prasanna (29) showed a bit of intent by taking on Chawla and Ali Murtaza to inch closer towards the target.
The duo added 49 runs as Prasanna was trapped leg before by a Jalaj straighter.
Chawla again got his googly right as he enticed Aparajith to come down the track and was promptly stumped. Hanuma Vihari (1) didn’t last long offering a low return catch to Jalaj to become the sixth wicket to fall.
R Vinay Kumar (24) struck some lusty blows before Murtaza bowled him at the stroke of lunch as he played a cross-batted heave.
Pragyan Ojha (2) padded a Chawla flipper while Abhimanyu Mithun was cleaned up by Murtaza to make it 289 for 9.
Shreyash Gopal couldn’t keep his cool as he jumped out to Murtaza to be stumped by Naman Ojha, sparking off wild celebrations by jubilant Central players.
Brief Scores: Central Zone 276 & 403. South Zone 379 and 291 in 88.3 overs (KL Rahul 130, Piyush Vhawla 3/83, Ali Murtaza 3/59).