IT WAS 6.15 pm and the sun had slipped past the horizon. The floodlights were fully turned on, and with just 15 minutes to go for the dinner break at the Greater Noida Stadium, Indian cricket faced its big moment of truth. Nathu Singh, India Red’s young tearaway, lumbered in to dismiss Robin Uthappa with a sharp delivery that seamed in venomously to dislodge the opener’s off-stump. Pacy and pin-point accurate, Nathu hit the bullseye with his first pink-ball delivery. Uthappa’s dismissal triggered hysterical cheers from the sparse crowd on the grass banks.
The Duleep Trophy’s opening duel between India Red and India Green, which had got off to a rather tepid start in the afternoon session, had sprung back into life with the demise of Uthappa. Armed with a hard new pink Kookaburra ball, Nathu was getting appreciable bounce and extravagant seam movement. At dusk, the pink ball was doing much more than what it had done all day.
Post the dinner break, Nathu came back to orchestrate two more scalps. He first dismissed Jalaj Saxena, getting him caught behind while chasing a widish delivery outside off stump. In the next over, when he got Paliwal out lbw, the Greens were reduced to 3/33. Chasing Red’s paltry score of 161 in their first essay, it was fair to assume that Nathu’s burst in the evening session had restored parity in the proceedings. His bowling analysis in the opening spell read: 4-0-15-3.
Lights go out
Paliwal’s dismissal brought Green’s skipper Suresh Raina. Just then as luck would have it, three of the six light towers malfunctioned and half the stadium was enveloped in darkness. For the crowd and others who were keenly watching the proceedings on television, it was a sheer killjoy moment.
The faulty floodlights had suspended play for close to an hour. BCCI’s general manager Amrit Mathur, however, chose to play down the issue, and said the technical glitch was fixed. “There was a small technical glitch, which had cropped up…nothing major. The issue has now been fixed,” he said. Mathur also assured that this will not happen in the upcoming games. “No, I don’t think we will see a repeat of this in the coming days. That’s because we have replaced the faulty appliances … so there is no question of this recurring again,” Mathur told The Indian Express.
When play finally resumed an hour later, Yuvraj decided to give Nathu a break, and decided to go for the kill with his left-arm chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav. Both Raina and Parthiv Patel had a fair measure of him initially, adding 39 runs in a little over 11 overs. That’s when Yadav struck — claiming three crucial blows in the span of 6 overs. From 3/72, the Greens were reduced to 6/87, adrift by another 74 runs. Yadav bowled unchanged in the final session, finishing the day with figures of 13-4-26-3.
Earlier, Red’s captain Yuvraj Singh won the toss and elected to take first strike on a slow wicket. Unlike the superlative exhibition in the evening session, the pink ball didn’t do as much in the opening session. Despite the 4mm grass, the wicket was dry, and the afternoon sun had baked it even further for the pink ball to be receptive. Yuvi’s team, were pegged back by the dismissals of opener Bharat and No.3 Sudeep Chatterjee in the first hour’s play. Both were out to poor cricketing shots, rather than splendid bowling on the part of the Greens. Bharat was out playing a non-existent pull shot, while Chatterjee perished due to shoddy footwork. Captain Yuvraj’s stay was brief, dismissed for just four measly runs. None of the batsmen were willing to grind it out in the middle. By tea, Reds had lost six wickets for just 67 runs.
Mukung makes hay
The lone bright spot in the Red’s batting was opener Abhinav Mukund. While wickets fell around him in a heap, Mukund was dogged in his approach, and rock solid in his defence. His innings was built on high levels of concentration, which was matched by his unflappable temperament. Once he got his eye in, Mukund opened up, playing some delightful drives especially through the covers and the third man region. He was involved in two key partnerships, which propelled the Reds past 160. First, a 34-run eight wicket stand with Kuldeep Yadav. This was followed by a quickfire 50-run stand with Anureet. Mukund scored 77, close to 50 per cent of his team’s first innings total. Under the given circumstances, this knock was definitely worth it’s weight in gold.
The last time he played for India in an international fixture was during the ill-fated third Test match against England at Trent Bridge in 2011. He ended up with scores of 0 and 3. India lost that fixture by 319 runs, and Mukund lost his Test spot.
Since then, he has been out of favour with the national selectors. However, he has been a giant at the domestic circuit, having scored for Tamil Nadu at a fairly consistent rate. He was the third highest run scorer in the 2014-15 season, and by last October, he had already featured in his 100th first-class game. The 26-year-old’s knock here tonight is yet another reminder to the national selectors.
Brief score: India Green: 116/7 (S Raina 35, K Yadav 3-26). India Red: 161 (A Mukund 77, S Sharma 4-62, P Ojha 3-19)