Duleep Trophy Final: Spinners shine as India Blue closes in on big win

Left-arm spinners Swapnil Singh and Saurabh Kumar take eight of the 15 wickets to fall on Day Three.

Saurabh Kumar (second from right) will be a handful on a wearing pitch on Day Four.   -  B. Jothi Ramalingam

Decimating India Red with accurate and aggressive slow bowling on Day Three of the Duleep Trophy final here at the NPR College Ground on Thursday, India Blue secured its grip on the contest.

Red, resuming on its overnight score of 27 for 1, was bowled out for 182 in its first innings, Swapnil Singh being the wrecker-in-chief with a haul of 5 for 58. Enforcing the follow-on, Blue reduced Red to 128 for 5 at stumps, still ahead by 231 runs. This time, Red was tormented by Saurabh Kumar (3 for 41), another left-arm spinner.

Swapnil was on the money in the first and Saurabh in the second. The duo bowled in the right areas, exploited the rough, generated enough flight, spin and bounce, and caught the batsmen unawares on many occasions.

In the morning, Faiz Fazal introduced Swapnil in the 22nd over of the innings and made him bowl 22 overs on the trot. The left-arm spinner repaid his captain’s faith, making sure his team set sights on the trophy.

Trial by spin

It was a lesson on how not to play spin bowling for Red. With the pitch assisting the slower bowlers, Swapnil, Saurabh Kumar and off-spinner Deepak Hooda (2 for 18) spun a web around the batsmen; Red succumbed to the pressure as the close-in fielders were kept busy all day.

It was Dhawal Kulkarni (2 for 33) who opened the sluice gates for Blue when he trapped Sanjay Ramaswamy (18 off 41 balls) in front. The ball, an inswinger, bamboozled the batsman and thudded on to the pads and Blue was on its way. Ashutosh Singh (11 off 53 balls) and B. Sandeep (57 off 112 balls) tried staging a recovery act with a 38-run partnership (more importantly consuming 107 balls), but a piece of brilliance from Ricky Bhui sent Ashutosh back to the hut, against the run of play. It was the opening Blue was looking for, having endured almost more than 17 overs without a wicket — its longest in the day.

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Sandeep and Ishan Kishan (0 off 3 balls) fell to Swapnil in quick time and at 93 for 5, India Red was in deep trouble. Siddhesh Lad (8 off 38 balls), too, came a cropper when he offered Swapnil a return catch and when Writtick Chatterjee departed for 19 to leave Red at 125 for 7, the writing on the wall was clear.

The remaining three wickets delayed the inevitable. Lower-order batsman Prasidh Krishna (25 off 24 balls) tried to steal the thunder with some lusty blows but Red never looked comfortable against spin bowling.

Another collapse

Resuming with a deficit of 359, Sanjay (11 off 42 balls) and M. Abhinav (46 off 55 balls) tried to start on a positive note with a 50-run partnership for the first wicket but when Sanjay came down the track to Saurabh, he was beaten all ends up as Smit Patel made no mistake behind the wickets.

Abhinav followed suit soon after in a similar fashion to the same bowler. That Red seemed to have learnt no lessons from the earlier drubbing was evident when Deepak Hooda accounted for Ashutosh Singh and then cleaned up Lad off the very next delivery. Sandeep, then, tried to heave Saurabh out of the park only to get an edge for Smit to do the rest behind the stumps. It ended a torrid day for Red, which just about managed to take the contest to the fourth day.

Friday only seems to be a mere formality for Blue to wrap things up in style.