KULDEEP YADAV’s first delivery of his fifth over was a fairly fullish delivery on Robin Uthappa’s middle and off- stump. Sensing an opportunity, the 30-year-old opener cleared his left leg and swept it powerfully past the square leg fence to bring up his tenth boundary.
Chasing 497 for a win in the first Day/Night Duleep Trophy encounter, India Green had raced to 122 for the loss of Jalaj Saxena. But his opening partner Robin Uthappa had taken his personal tally to 72 in just 65 deliveries with that boundary, and given his team a solid platform. Out for a first ball duck on the opening day, the 30-year-old looked far more aggressive in his second essay. Meanwhile, Yadav, fresh from his three-wicket burst in the first innings had other ideas.
After getting smacked for a boundary in the first delivery, the Uttar Pradesh bowler held his line just a fair bit. Uthappa, anticipating a bit of turn, played inside the line of the delivery, got an outside edge to hand Yuvraj Singh a simple catch at first slip. On the final session on Day 3 here in Greater Noida, Kuldeep had given his team an opening. Two balls later, Kuldeep snapped Rajat Paliwal with a flatter delivery that pitched on middle stump, gripped and bounced, to trap the Services player on the crease. In the span of three deliveries, Kuldeep had claimed two prized scalps for the Reds, and triggered a mini collapse.
The left-arm spinner was not done yet. Four overs later, he removed Parthiv Patel with a wrong-un that was flatter in length, but straightened just enough to trap the wicket-keeper plumb in front. From 1/122, the Greens were now struggling at 4/131. Like in the first innings, Kuldeep had plotted the opposition’s downfall with guile, dip and a bit of grip from the surface.
Green’s captain Suresh Raina, together with Saurabh Tiwary forged an alliance. The two got together and added 54 runs in the next hour to keep the Greens in the hunt. Tiwary, fresh from his half century in the first innings smashed four boundaries, while Raina kept ticking at the other end. He opened up to Anureet clubbing him over the covers for a six.
Just when you sensed that the two had a grip on the proceedings, Red’s captain Yuvraj brought back his trump card. The 21-year-old Yadav returned to scalp Tiwary, who had misjudged the length to get trapped lbw for 31. And in the next over when Kuldeep cleaned up Sandeep Sharma to claim his first five-wicket haul in first-class cricket. At the end of proceedings on Day 3, Red needed three more wickets to register a comprehensive win. Situation looked grim for Green as they needed 280 runs more.
Three days of this Duleep Trophy encounter had produced three different narratives. While bowlers — especially the seamers had wreaked havoc on Day 1, the second day belonged to the batsmen. On Day 3 however, it was two spinners who had hogged the limelight. If the evening session belonged to Kuldeep, then Shreyes Gopal, the unassuming leg-spinner for the Greens walked away with the honours in the afternoon session.
Gopal, like Kuldeep, got a lot of dip and turn from the wicket, scalping four crucial blows today. However, unlike Kuldeep’s spell, Gopal’s efforts was going to have little impact on the outcome of the game, because the Reds had well and truly seized the initiative from opposition through commanding centuries from Abhinav Mukund and Sudip Chatterjee at the top of the order.
Out of his five scalps, it was Gurkeerat’s wicket which stood out. It was the perfect leg-break — slow and loopy — tossed above Gurkeerat’s eyeline that drew the middle-order batsman forward. Gurkeerat got stranded outside the crease, and Parthiv Patel completed the formalities behind the stumps. Gurkeerat, after a rather tepid start in the final session on Day 2 had flourished today, scoring a quickfire 82 off just 96 balls. He was in sight of a century, when Gopal ultimately did him in. The Karnataka leggie then accounted for Arun Karthik, Wakhare and Nathu Singh’s wickets to finish with figures of 5/123.
Brief Scores (Day Three): India Red 161 & 486 in 115.5 ovs (Abhinav Mukund 169, Sudip Chatterjee 114, Gurkeerat Singh Mann 82; Shreyas Gopal 5/123) vs India Green 151 and 217/7 in 46 overs (Suresh Raina 35 batting, Robin Uthappa 72; Kuldeep Yadav 5/55).