Under scorching heat and playing his first four-day match after his comeback, Yuvraj Singh kept his cool to make a grand statement of his intentions of being ready for the longer version of the game by scoring a classy, unbeaten century.
Even as North Zone captain Shikhar Dhawan notched up his second consecutive century (121, 200b, 14x4) in the Duleep Trophy this season, it was Yuvraj’s (133 batting, 152b, 20x4, 2x6) show all the way as the two not only struck hundreds but also strung together a 160-run partnership for the third wicket.
It helped the team score a healthy 346 for four at close of play on the first day of the four-day Duleep Trophy semifinal against Central Zone at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium here on Sunday.
The best part of Yuvraj’s innings was the way he was focussed, not showing signs of any discomfort in the heat.
More importantly, he played all his trademark strokes with great ease on either side of the wicket.
He not only found the gaps, but also hit two imperious sixes off left-arm spinner Murali Kartik, the second one helping him reach his century.
Earlier, Dhawan did his team a huge favour by winning the toss and opting to bat on a pitch which looked flat.
The new ball bowlers looked good only when there was early morning moisture.
Quite sensibly, North’s top-order batsmen played it safe in the crucial morning session before opening out with great freedom later.
Dhawan was at his best when showing off his penchant for the cover-drive, which fetched most of his boundaries.
After the early loss of Rahul Dewan (17) — who was trapped on the shuffle by fast bowler Rituraj Singh — it was North which dominated the game right through the day.
The best bowler from Central Zone was the classy Kartik, who was also unlucky as quite a few appeals for lbw were turned down, and a couple of sharp chances were not grabbed by the close-in fielders.
It was a smart effort by Bhuvnesh Kumar in the deep that sent back Nitin Saini off Praveen Kumar as North’s score read 110 for two in 38th over.
That brought Yuvraj to the crease.
Dhawan and Yuvraj treated the bowling on merit, and rarely failed to belt the loose ball.
The latter made his intentions pretty clear when he dabbed Praveen Kumar to the third man fence and then cut off-spinner Jalaj Saxena for his first two fours.
Even as Dhawan was content to play second fiddle, Yuvraj came up with a splendid blend of class, elegance and often arrogance in his stroke-play.
That Yuvraj continued to dominate even after Dhawan was caught and bowled by Kartik was a tribute to his staying power.
Even as the day’s proceedings were coming to a close, he did not hesitate to unleash some of his extravagant strokes.
On the whole it was a disappointing Central Zone bowling display and the body language suggested that the team had given up the day’s battle a bit too early.
North Zone — 1st innings: R. Dewan lbw b Rituraj Singh 17, S. Dhawan c & b M. Kartik 121, N. Saini c B. Kumar b Praveen Kumar 35, Yuvraj Singh (batting) 133, Mandeep Singh c Kartik b Praveen Kumar 4, P. Dogra (batting) 30; Extras: (lb-2, w-2, nb-2) 6; Total: (for four wkts. in 90 overs) 346.
Fall of wickets: 1-35, 2-110, 3-270, 4-275.
Central Zone bowling: Praveen 20-4-72-2, Bhuvnesh 23-4-63-0, R
ituraj 15-1-67-1, Jalaj 13-1-50-0, Kartik 19-1-92-1.
Keywords: Duleep Trophy