Wriddhiman Saha played the leader. This time with the bat. His majestic performance of 170 stood out for everything that good batsmanship is associated with.
The Bengal wicketkeeper-batsman literally shut Central Zone out of the Duleep Trophy final with a flawless display at the Holkar Stadium here on Monday.
At the end of the second day, East Zone was in a position to plan the celebrations for its maiden Duleep title. Resuming at 88 for three, East Zone made 370 to establish a first-innings lead of 237 runs. Central would require a few stellar contributions to make a match of it. At close, it was 48 for no loss and to compound its woes, Vineet Saxena is unlikely to bat due to a finger injury.
Saha played the motivator's role to perfection. Fourteen overnight, he carried the team on his shoulders. He was discipline personified, building an innings of quality, and then decimating the attack with enviable flourish. His was a towering show and reduced Central to a ragged side. As Saha grew in stature at the crease, the game drifted away from Central.
East lost in-form Anustup Majumdar, 46 overnight, in the ninth over of the day. It was obviously a crucial stage but Saha ensured the grip was not lost. He scripted two partnerships that left Central frustrated. Saha's fifth-wicket stand with skipper Natraj Behera (46, 90b, 8x4) was worth 109 and then he guided Bilap Samantray (41, 99b, 6x4) in a sixth-wicket partnership of 87.
Character on display
It was a splendid exhibition of character by the 27-year-old Saha. Like a seasoned batsman, he did not spare the bad balls and later created some with his aggressive and innovative strokes. His drives on either side were exemplary and was rarely hustled into deciding what shot to play. Saha was the difference actually this afternoon. The 245-ball essay, with 25 fours and one six, was a lesson in commitment and execution of his desire to make history.
Credit to Behera and Samantray for supporting Saha. Having done the good work, Behera showed poor wisdom when trying to cut Piyush Chawla at the stroke of lunch. He had no clue to the well-concealed googly. Samantray was trapped in front and a mini-collapse saw Shahbaz Nadeem, Mohammad Shami and Basant Mohanty perish in succession before a 45-run stand between Saha and Ashok Dinda stretched Central's agony on the field. Dinda clouted three fours and two sixes.
The Central bowling was woefully short of ideas and direction. The bowlers, without exception, were guilty of spraying the ball and conceding easy boundaries when East was in the process of constructing its response.
Central Zone — 1st innings: 133.
East Zone — 1st innings: Manish Vardhan b Sudhindra 4, Dheeraj Jadhav b Rituraj 11, Anustup Majumdar c Rituraj b Sudhindra 52, Ishank Jaggi lbw b Sudhindra 9, Wriddhiman Saha st. Ojha b Chawla 170, Natraj Behera b Chawla 46, Bilap Samantray lbw b Bhuvaneshwar 41, Shahbaz Nadeem lbw b Chawla 0, Mohammad Shami c Kaif b Bhuvaneshwar 0, Basant Mohanty c Chawla b Bhuvaneshwar 0, Ashok Dinda (not out) 24; Extras (lb-4, nb-6, w-3) 13; Total (in 110.1 overs) 370.
Fall of wickets: 1-5, 2-24, 3-48, 4-107, 5-216, 6-303, 7-312, 8-317, 9-325.
Central Zone bowling: Bhuvaneshwar Kumar 31-5-80-3, T. Sudhindra 25-5-74-3, Rituraj Singh 25-4-99-1, Piyush Chawla 19.1-1-73-3, Jalaj Saxena 8-0-36-0, Parvinder Singh 2-1-4-0.
Central Zone — 2nd innings: Naman Ojha (batting) 14, Jalaj Saxena (batting) 33; Extras (b-1) 1; Total (for no loss in 11 overs) 48.
East Zone bowling: Dinda 4-0-25-0, Mohanty 4-1-17-0, Shami 3-2-5-0.
Keywords: Duleep Trophy