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Wednesday, Mar 27, 2002

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Sport - Cricket

Sriram's knock a bright spot for South

By Our Sports Reporter

South Zone's S. Sriram, who scored 82, cuts West's Ramesh Powar on the opening day of their Duleep Trophy match in Chennai on Tuesday.

CHENNAI, March 26. Bat first, run up a 500-plus score, and then apply pressure - often the formula for success in domestic cricket. South Zone got only the first of the `three-part' act right. The big total is proving to be elusive, with the absence of partnerships hurting the team's cause.

At the end of the opening day's play in the crucial Duleep Trophy game against the West, South was at a less than satisfying 233 for six at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium on Tuesday, a battling S. Sharath 41 (84 balls 6x4) and K.S. Shahabuddin (two) were at the crease.

The persistent Ajit Agarkar's twin strike in the last session of the day - he won a prolonged caught-behind appeal against Hemang Badani and then castled RVCH. Prasad with a pacy off-cutter - left one in no doubt that it was West's day. There was an element of doubt though whether the ball actually brushed Badani's gloves as the batsman shaped to pull.

On a day when the West bowlers turned in a disciplined performance on a less than responsive pitch, only opener S. Sriram (82, 222b, 13x4) managed a sizable individual contribution.

South's plight might have been worse had Connor Williams held on to a sharp chance, when Sharath, on 12 then, edged offie Ramesh Powar. The southpaw then cashed in, cutting and pulling with panache.

It was a typical Sriram effort, punching the pacemen square of the wicket, cutting, flicking and sweeping the spinners, and running hard. There were not too many drives in front by the short southpaw, but then he played to his strengths.

In the end, like it often happens in this game, Sriram's strength proved his undoing, the opener's attempt to cut Hrishikesh Kanitkar, ending in the hands of Connor Williams at slip.

M.S.K. Prasad (23) surfacing in the top of the order, produced a couple of pleasing off-drives, but perished to Sairaj Bahutule, pushing forward to a leg-break and being gobbled up by Kaushik Aphale at silly point. No. 3 Vinay Kumar (37, 84b, 3x4, 1x6), strong on the on-side, struck Powar for a lovely six over mid-wicket and looked good for more, when his sweep off Bahutule was brilliantly taken by a diving Ajit Bhoite near the square-leg umpire. The young Rowland Barrington, appeared compact, before knocking one back into bowler Powar's hands.

There was no place in the South eleven for Sadagopan Ramesh, captain M.S.K. Prasad opening the innings with Sriram. Lack of runs in the domestic circuit has gone against the opener, who is also under the additional pressure of staging a Test comeback. These are indeed difficult days for the Tamil Nadu southpaw.

While the decision to leave pitches uncovered has to be welcomed, this actually works in favour of the batsmen when the sun shines. Even the hint of early assistance due to the `sweating' under the covers is absent. The M.A. Chidambaram Stadium surface was bone dry when play commenced.

Under the circumstances, Ajit Agarkar bowled quite beautifully, the wicket-keeper and the slip fielders applauding regularly as the ball beat the outside edge.

The in-form left-arm paceman Irfan Pathan provided good support, displaying the ability to straighten it from over the wicket, a good sign in this budding bowler. Irfan is not yet twenty and when he fills out more, he is bound to find that extra yard of pace.

Bahutule was steady like on most occasions, while Powar sent down a teasing spell in the later stages of the day, spinning the ball across the left-handers, a slip, gully and silly point breathing down batsmen's neck.

For South, batsman Rowland Barrington, off-spinner H. Watekar and paceman M.R. Shrinivas received the nod at the expense of Ramesh, an indisposed Vijay Bharadwaj and Suresh Kumar, while opener Niranjan Godbole, middle-order batsmen Sitanshu Kotak and Kaushik Aphale and Agarkar replaced Wasim Jaffer, Vinod Kambli, Altaf Merchant and Avinash Salvi in the West eleven.

The scores:

South Zone — 1st innings: S. Sriram c Williams b Kanitkar 82; M.S.K. Prasad c Aphale b Bahutule 23; D. Vinay Kumar c Bhoite b Bahutule 37; Rowland Barrington c & b Powar 15; Hemang Badani c Mongia b Agarkar 17; S. Sharath (batting) 41; RVCH Prasad b Agarkar 10; K.S. Shahabuddin (batting) 2; Extras (b-2, lb-1, nb-3) 6; Total (for six wkts.) 233.

Fall of wickets: 1-42; 2-109; 3-156; 4-170; 5-201; 6-229.

West Zone bowling: Agarkar 18-8-36-2; Irfan Pathan (jr) 15-7-26-0; Godbole 5-1-7-0; Powar 25-6-77-1; Bahutule 20-3-40-2; Bhoite 6-0-32-0; Kanitkar 7-2-12-1.

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