SPORT

Griggs is Central Districts' unlikely hero

Central Disrtricts' Bevan Griggs, who scored an unbeaten century, pulls Tinu Yohannan to the fence in the three-day match against India at Napier on Saturday. — Photo: N. Balaji

Central Disrtricts' Bevan Griggs, who scored an unbeaten century, pulls Tinu Yohannan to the fence in the three-day match against India at Napier on Saturday. — Photo: N. Balaji  

Napier Dec. 7. A bright-eyed youngster brought much cheer to a thin but colourful Saturday crowd, while exposing an old failing in the Indian team - the inability to blow away the tail.

The strokeful unbeaten hundred from 24-year-old Bevan Griggs, a wicket-keeper playing as a pure batsman, ensured that the Central Districts recovered from a rather precarious 153 for seven to 295 for nine declared in its first innings, leaving the Indian team-management plenty to worry about ahead of the first Test in Wellington, commencing on December 12.

The Indians, adrift by 86 in the first innings, had still not began their second essay, when a combination of bad light and drizzle, 40 minutes after tea, prevented further play on the second day of the three-day first class fixture.

The Indians, with Ajit Agarkar (four for 50), who swung the ball away at a lively pace and got the odd delivery to skid through, grabbed three for 22 in five overs to make major inroads, when Sourav Ganguly, replaced the Mumbai bowler with left-arm paceman Ashish Nehra, who disappointed, and the home side, let off the hook, managed to stage a splendid recovery act.

Later, Ganguly's explanation for the switch in the attack was interesting. "This is a practice game, and the idea is to give all your main bowlers a decent bowl. So I brought in Nehra, and sometimes, such changes can alter the course of matches. Griggs also batted extremely well.''

However, the captain conceded that even if Agarkar was removed from the firing line, the other pacemen, Nehra and Tinu Yohannan, who would be fighting for a place in the first Test, should have got the job done.

Griggs (100 not out, 150b, 1x6, 11x4), with a previous best first class score of 76 and a humble average of 26.43, was quick to rock back and slam the ball through the covers, cut with panache whenever provided the width, and after early troubles against Harbhajan Singh, used his feet well to counter the off-spinner, often hitting him straight.

Walking in at No. 6, he also displayed enormous confidence in the tailenders and the last three partnerships were - 47 for the eighth wicket with Michael Mason in 13 overs, 37 for the ninth in 15.4 with Brent Hefford, and an unbeaten 58 in 14.2 for the last with Lance Hamilton.

Griggs, who has former New Zealand wicket-keeper batsman Adam Parore as his role model, only made the Central Districts side last season because of an injury to first wicket-keeper Martyn Sigley, and when the latter returned this year, Griggs appeared unlikely to make the eleven. However, he has emerged the unlikely hero.

A quick-footed batsman, not unwilling to innovate, Griggs, reached only his second half century in first class cricket with a thumping cover-drive against Agarkar. And he got to his hundred off the same bowler, with a less convincing shot though, his slash gracing the fingers of a leaping Laxman at second slip.

``You have to back yourself when you are taking on international cricketers. The selectors have shown a lot of faith in me and I had to take my chance. We took it over by over (batting with the tailenders),'' revealed Griggs.

On a pitch that was still seaming on the second morning, the Indian pacemen, save Agarkar, bowled the wrong length. Nehra, essentially a swing bowler, tended to pitch the ball up, and was driven with ease. On a seaming track, a good length or just short of it, would have been the ideal area for the pacemen to zero in on. And as the pitch eased out in the afternoon, the task of Nehra and Yohannan became that much harder.

Craig Spearman (58, 70b, 9x4) produced some cracking drives through the off-side, before he drove a touch too early at Yonannan for the bowler to take a low reflex catch.

Mathew Sinclair (52, 84b, 3x4), who gathered 92 for the second wicket with Spearman, got to his half century with a scorching cover-drive off Yohannan, but failed to keep his square-drive off Agarkar down and Harbhajan at point made no mistake.

This triggered a collapse as the Central Districts lost five wickets for 20 runs. Agarkar, the pick of the bowlers, dismissed Martyn Sigley and Andrew Schwass in one over, the former trapped leg-before and the latter pouched by 'keeper Patel. Sanjay Bangar, who sent down a tidy spell, had Glen Sulzberger well caught by a diving Laxman at third slip. Jamie How padding up to Harbhajan Singh, in the off-spinner's first over of the day, was soon walking back to the pavilion.

Then, Griggs and the tail breathed defiance (the side reeling at 179 for seven at lunch, was a much healthier 269 for nine when brief showers forced an early tea).

The Indians, indeed, had to endure a frustrating period on the field. Ganguly claimed the new ball after 81 overs, but it was a day when Griggs, progressing steadily towards his hundred, could not be denied.

The scores:

India — 1st innings: 209

Central Districts — 1st innings: C. Spearman c & b Yohannan 58, P. Ingram c Sehwag b Nehra 10, M. Sinclair c Harbhajan b Agarkar 52, G. Sulzberger c Laxman b Bangar 8, J. How lbw b Harbhajan 10, B. Griggs 100 (not out), M. Sigley lbw b Agarkar 1, A. Schwass c Patel b Agarkar 0, D. Mason c Yohannan b Harbhajan 21, B. Hefford c Patel b Agarkar 9, C. Hamilton (not out) 9; Extras (b-3, lb-2, nb-11, w-1) 17; Total 295 for nine decl.

Fall of wickets: 1-16, 2-108, 3-133, 4-135, 5-152, 6-153, 7-153, 8-200, 9-237.

India bowling: Agarkar 16.2-6-50-4; Nehra 18-3-69-1; Yohannan 18-2-62-1; Bangar 10-2-36-1; Harbhajan 20-0-73-2.

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