As Harbhajan Singh sat majestically in the players’ tent at tea, one could almost sense a couple of North Zone batsmen requesting their captain to allow them to complete their centuries.
Ian Dev Singh, who suffered cramps on Friday when on 95, had completed his job but there was Services’ Rajat Paliwal, also forced to retire hurt on 95 this afternoon with cramps, who was understandably keen to reach the landmark. And then, there was Haryana wicketkeeper Nitin Saini who had made a quick half century and was looking good for a ton too.
With that being the situation, North despite having piled up a massive 530 for eight by tea on the third day of its Duleep Trophy semifinal against East at the Nehru Stadium here on Saturday, delayed bringing down the curtains on its first innings on the penultimate day of the four-dayer.
Runs came thick and fast after that as Paliwal and Saini, who hit off-spinner Sunny Gupta for two consecutive sixes on the way, raced to their centuries. And as soon as Saini reached his ton with a boundary, North declared its first innings at 591 for eight.
East off-spinner Sunny Gupta, who had played Ranji for Bihar, Tamil Nadu and Jharkhand, took four wickets in his Duleep Trophy debut.
In reply, East made 32 for one in the 14 overs before close.
North’s goal on the flat track was to build up a huge first innings total and then pile on the pressure on East. And in the end, three men came up with centuries on Saturday.
“It’s a run-scoring wicket, we wanted to play as long as we could,” said Saini.
Ian Dev, the 24-year-old Gujarat-born Jammu and Kashmir player, finished his century in the morning and set his sights on the next goal, 150. He went for some quick runs but was stopped at 145 (263 balls, 17x4, 2x6), caught at long-on by Biplab Samantray while trying to hoist Sunny Gupta.
Paliwal’s ton, which came from 230 balls, was peppered with seven boundaries and a six but it was Saini who made North’s fastest century (137b, 8x4, 4x6). His two consecutive sixes off Sunny Gupta, one over square-leg and the other straight over the bowler’s head, were a treat to watch and brought some noise from the near-empty stadium.
Harbhajan struck when East made its reply, picking the wicket of Pallavkumar Das. There could be more trouble for East on Sunday.
The scores: North Zone – 1st innings: Jiwanjot Singh c Samantray b Dinda 24, Unmukt Chand c Gupta b Nadeem 116, Ian Dev Singh c Samantray b Gupta 145, Mandeep Singh c Das b Gupta 60, Rajat Paliwal (not out) 106, Nitin Saini (not out) 101, Rishi Dhawan b Nadeem 11, Harbhajan Singh c Samantray b Gupta 7, Mohit Sharma lbw b Gupta 1, Sarabjit Ladda c & b Nadeem 0, Extras (b-7, lb-5, nb-8) 20, Total (for eight wkts. decl. in 194 overs) 591.
Fall of wickets: 1-50, 2-248, 3-372, 4-480, 5-500, 6-509, 7-518, 8-521.
East Zone bowling: Ashoke Dinda 32-9-92-1, Basant Mohanty 35-7-73-0, Biplal Samantray 22-6-53-0, Shahbaz Nadeem 54-14-147-3, Sunny Gupta 46-4-182-4, Anustrup Majumdar 2-0-24-0, Tarjinder Singh 3-0-8-0.
East Zone – 1st innings: Pallavkumar Das st. Saini b Harbhajan 14, Rameez Nemat (batting) 13, Sunny Gupta (batting) 5, Extras 0, Total (for one wkt. in 14 overs) 32.
Fall of wicket: 1-27.
North Zone bowling: Mohit Sharma 4-0-7-0, Siddarth Kaul 4-2-7-0, Rishi Dhawan 3-0-16-0, Harbhajan Singh 3-1-2-1.