India Blue took a stronghold on the Duleep Trophy final when Nikhil Gangta (130, 241 balls 7x4, 6x6) crafted a sublime century, his sixth first-class ton, to power Blue to a mammoth 541 in its first innings at the NPR College Ground in Natham on Wednesday.
Gangta stitched two path-breaking partnerships — 153 for the seventh wicket with Swapnil Singh (69, 117 balls, 9x4, 2x6) and 70 in 122 balls with Saurabh Kumar (36, 67 balls, 4x4, 1x6) — as he took India Red bowlers to the cleaners.
When stumps were drawn on day two, India Red finished with 27 for the loss of one wicket in 10 overs, trailing Blue by 514 runs.
Abhinav Mukund (7 off 13 balls) was the lone casualty when he had no answer to Dhawal Kulkarni’s inswinger that beat him all ends up and dislodged the stumps.
A gargantuan task awaits Red when it resumes batting on Thursday.
The day, however, belonged to Himachal cricketer Gangta. Resuming from an overnight score of 1 run, he toyed with the bowling attack as Red were left chasing the leather all throughout the day.
Gangta made his intentions clear, in the seventh ball of the day, when he got his powerful bottom hand into play to drive past the mid off fielder for a boundary.
Two overs later, he stood tall on the backfoot and slashed the ball past the deep backward square leg area for another boundary.
Ishan Porel, the birthday boy, got the breakthrough in the first hour of play when he castled Ricky Bhui, who was guilty of throwing his wicket away after a wonderful start. Bhui went for a wild heave, only to find an under edge and his citadel breached.
The wicket brought Swapnil to the crease, and along with Gangta pushed the opposition on the backfoot.
The duo raised 153 runs, in 215 balls, as they looked at ease motoring away in fine touch. They used the pace off the quicker bowlers to guide them behind the wicket or to drive them and the slower bowlers were dealt with disdain, if they erred in length.
Rasool and Hirwani tried to float the ball but Gangta was well set to not fall into the trap. He got down to the pitch of the ball and carted them for six runs over their heads and to the cow corner in style.
The 153-run stand was broken when Swapnil tried to heave Hirwani out of the park only to get a leading edge for B. Sandeep to do the rest at covers.
It was then Saurabh’s turn to frustrate the Red team as he added a valuable 70, as Gangta went hammer and tongs at the other end.
Jaydev Unadkat then rubbed salt into Red’s wounds with a quickfire 24 (off 19 balls) but by then the damage had been done.
Parvez Rasool and Mihir Hirwani were the pick of the bowlers for India Red, returning with figures of 4/150 off 53.3 overs and 3/190 off 57 overs respectively, some numbers that they would love to forget.