It was another high-scoring day in the 2016-17 Duleep Trophy, and this time, it was on Day 1 of the five-day final between India Blue and India Red in Greater Noida. Blue were once again amongst the runs, with Cheteshwar Pujara scoring a century, after half-centuries from all of Mayank Agarwal (57), Gautam Gambhir (94) and Dinesh Karthik (55 not out), to help the side end Saturday (September 10) on an imposing 362 for 3.
When the day ended, Pujara was unbeaten 111 off 164 balls, accompanied by an impressive Karthik, who was batting on a quick 55 off 68.
It was a star-studded affair, with the BCCI rejigging the squads earlier in the week to give game-time to some of the Test squad regulars ahead of a long home season for the Indian team that will begin with a three-Test series against New Zealand. All of Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Amit Mishra and Stuart Binny were in action on the day, with Ravindra Jadeja not getting a chance to bat with Blue.
To that end, only Pujara really capitalised. Rohit scored a 57-ball 30 before holing out needlessly, while the Red bowlers, among them Mishra – who went for over a 100 runs – and Binny, were largely ineffective with the pink ball, all in the presence of Anil Kumble, the India coach.
Gambhir opted to bat, and once again set Blue off on a decent start along with Agarwal. The Karnataka batsman was the early aggressor, taking five overs to settle before picking the first boundary of the day off Pradeep Sangwan, the left-arm medium pacer. More followed off Yuvraj Singh, Mishra and Binny before Gambhir got in on the action too, pouncing on Mishra.
Gambhir was lucky to be dropped when on 29, but that apart, he was comfortable. He took charge thereafter and was the first to reach the half-century, off 62 balls. Agarwal was now the assiduous one, but they took Blue into the tea break at 114. It didn’t take long for Agarwal to bring up his tenth first-class fifty after resuming, four of which have come in this tournament.
A bowling change brought about the breakthrough though. Yuvraj handed over the ball to Binny, who came in from around the wicket and prompted Agarwal to chop to extra cover. The partnership had lasted 37.1 overs, but the 34-run stand for the second wicket between Pujara and Gambhir lasted just 11, the latter pushed back in his crease by Kuldeep Yadav, the chinaman bowler, and chopping it onto his own stumps just six short of a century. Gambhir wasn’t pleased with himself at missing out on a hundred when well set – having registered scores of 77, 90 and 59 earlier in the tournament.
Pujara was then joined by Rohit, and the two kept the scorecard moving, the former brining up his 10,000th first-class run with a half-volley that was dispatched to the fence off Mishra. They went into dinner at 211 for 2, and despite the break, the momentum continued steadily into the final session. Pujara was in particularly good touch, working the gaps, using his feet well and finding the fence with regularity. Their 64-run stand was a steady one, but Rohit ran out of patience, having scored a 57-ball 30, attempting to go over the top against Mishra. Dhawan stationed himself below the skier and claimed it with ease. It was a particularly ill-judged shot from Rohit, who had escaped earlier when a heave off Mishra took his leading edge but landed safely.
Unfortunately for Red, Karthik, the new man, was in the mood to pummel, and it was a suddenly two-pronged attack. Pujara brought up his half-century off 92 balls, with a pull to midwicket off Mishra. If anything, the boundaries increased in frequency thereafter, with the run-rate soaring over five. Karthik reached his half-century by jumping on a full toss from Gurkeerat Singh Mann and sending it to the fence.
Two overs later, Pujara brought up his second successive century in style – his 33rd in first-class cricket – driving Binny gloriously between extra cover and mid-off. Stumps were drawn shortly thereafter on another good day for Blue with the willow.