Agarwal, Gambhir lay solid foundation for India Blue

Mayank Agarwal scores career-best 161, Gautam Gambhir misses ton as India Blue top order piles on the runs on Day One.

India Blue's Mayank Agarwal celebrates his century.   -  Sandeep Saxena

India Blue may not have got an opportunity to bowl so far in the Duleep Trophy but its openers sure know how to build a sound foundation at the placid track of Shaheed Vijay Singh Pathik Sports Complex here.

For the second time in seven days, Mayank Agarwal and Gautam Gambhir gave Blue just the kind of start a team needs. Improving over their partnership of 151 against India Red, the right-left opening combination raised 212 runs to leave India Green in an unenviable position at stumps on the opening day of the final league encounter.

Electing to bat, Blue ended the day at 336 for three in 90 overs. If Gambhir, run out for 90, was guilty of looking for a second run where there was none, Agarwal tossed away his wicket after a career-best 161 with an ill-advised pull that landed into the waiting hands of Ankit Rajpoot off Ashok Dinda. Five runs later, young Siddhesh Lad showed he learnt nothing from Agarwal’s dismal and got out in a similar way.

Long toil for India Green

Barring two quick wickets late in the evening, it was a long toil for the Green bowlers who looked most ordinary. Though Jasprit Bumrah did manage to get a favourable leg-before verdict in the third over of the innings, the decision was reversed once it was found that the bowler had overstepped.

As a result, Agarwal resumed from nine and made Green pay heavily.

Agarwal was in his elements as he eclipsed Gambhir in the initial part of their double-century stand. The Bangalore-based 25-year-old looked to play his strokes, particularly on the off side. Bumrah, Ashok Dinda and Ankit Rajpoot were despatched with disdain before the leg spin of Shreyas Gopal was punished on the leg side each time the bowler offered short-of-length deliveries.

From the other end, Gambhir picked up boundaries off the spinners when Jalaj Saxena and Pragyan Ojha bowled in tandem. In all, Gambhir hit 10 boundaries and exited after failing to beat a throw from Rajpoot to wicketkeeper Parthiv Patel.

Interestingly, when Agarwal scored his only previous first-class century – 118 against Delhi for Karnataka in the Ranji Trophy league match at Hubli last November, Gambhir was leading the opposition.

On this day, when he reached his maiden Duleep Trophy century, Gambhir was giving him company. In fact, even when Agarwal scored 92 in the previous innings here last week, he was all praise for the skipper for his guidance.

Another positive for Blue was the approach of Cheteshwar Pujara, who played his part in the 103-run second wicket stand. Someone with known credentials in the longer format, Pujara off late has been making batting appear a difficult art against all variety of opposition. But this evening, Pujara stroked the ball freely, rotated the strike well and looked set for a big knock. The fact that Pujara reached 51 with his 11th boundary reflects the batsman's positive intent.

The scores:

India Blue-1st innings: Mayank Agarwal c Rajpoot b Dinda 161 (218b, 21x4, 1x6), Gautam Gambhir (run out) 90 (193b, 10x4), Cheteshwar Pujara (batting) 63 (117b, 13x4), Siddhesh Lad c Saxena b Bumrah 1 (5b), A. Mithun (not out) 4 (13b), Extras (b-7, lb-4, nb-6) 17, Total (for three wickets in 90 overs) 336.

Fall of wickets: 1-212, 2-315, 3-320.

India Green bowling: Jasprit Bumrah 15-3-61-1, Ashok Dinda 13-1-54-1, Ankit Rajpoot 8-2-20-0, Shreyas Gopal 17-1-70-0, Jalaj Saxena 19-3-45-0, Pragyan Ojha 18-1-75-0.