Even as chances of a TNCA President’s XI win swelled exponentially all day — a very attritional day two — V. Maaruthi Raghav’s innings (124 n.o., 207b, 265m, 11x4, 2x6) was the lone, potent response to establish parity.
The end result at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium on Wednesday, however, wouldn’t be altered: President’s XI trumped TNCA XI by 105 runs and marched into the final of the Kalpathi Buchi Babu all-India invitation cricket tournament.
In pursuit of 366, TNCA XI resumed the day on seven for no loss. It wasn’t long before the score would read 19 for three, and then 31 for four. Seamer M. Mohammed (three for 30) dealt the numbing punches to dictate the course of the semifinal: he had Ganga Sridhar Raju caught behind by Karthik Aditya and trapped K. Bharath Shankar in front before forcing the reliable R. Prasanna to nick one to the ’keeper.
Mohammed’s first spell boasted of some flattering numbers: 7-4-7-3. Skipper R. Ashwin was caught at short-leg off fellow off-spinner Malolan Rangarajan (three for 102).
Striding out at No. 6, Maaruthi began to mend things along with M. Kaushik Gandhi (48, 6x4). Together they mustered 116 runs in 36.3 overs. Hurting the team most, though, was its scoring rate: TNCA XI was barely scoring at two runs-an-over at the end of 30 overs.
In the post-lunch session, Maaruthi appeared ready to liven up things. The 25-year-old left-hander unfurled some elegant strokes — the crackling cover-drives off Mohammed and L. Balaji being the standout ones.
Particularly impressive was his alacrity in reading the length of the delivery.
This was to prove effective in his engagement with the spin of Malolan and M. Ashwin (leggie).
Matters, nevertheless, weren’t entirely hunky dory at the other end. Kaushik’s gritty innings was terminated when he was caught at short leg off Malolan. Ashwin Venkataraman (34) showed some spunk in his 70-run association with Maaruthi before edging off-spinner M. Shahrukh Khan (three for 23) to Abhinav Mukund at first slip. Abhinav, in fact, had reprieved Ashwin on 21. He would go on to drop Maaruthi as well with the latter on 121.
With the asking-rate making uneasy demands, the rest of the TNCA XI batting, with the exception of Maaruthi, wilted eventually. President’s XI will face Uttar Pradesh in the final beginning on Friday.
The scores (semifinal): TNCA President’s XI 365 bt TNCA XI 260 in 85.3 overs (M. Kaushik Gandhi 48, V. Maaruthi Raghav 124 n.o.).