India Blue in command after Pujara 256

Cheteshwar Pujara, looking to solidify his place in the Indian playing XI, struck a mammoth double hundred on the second day of the Duleep Trophy final.

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Cheteshwar Pujara moved from strength to strength, rarely hustled into a false move.   -  Sandeep Saxena

Cricket under floodlights, a warm response from admirers of domestic cricket on a humid day, runs galore, and then a clutter of dismissals that created a superficial excitement. But for the most part, the game remained drab despite Cheteshwar Pujara knocking a double century and Sheldon Jackson helping himself to his 11th first-class hundred.

The second day of the Duleep Trophy final fell short of expectations at the Shaheed Vijay Singh Pathik Sports Complex here on Sunday.

India Blue amassed 693 before declaring and left India Red grieving as the tall Pankaj Singh struck twice in his opening over. At close, India Red was 16 for two in nine overs.

The pink ball left the bowlers frustrated. The turn was minimal on this pitch which saw the ball keep low at times, especially in the last session when Abhinav Mukund could not come down on the delivery in time. And then Pankaj beat Sudip Chatterjee with pace to leave one wondering if it was the same surface that saw Pujara and Jackson pulverise the bowlers in a stand of 243 for the fifth wicket.

Entertainment was not the theme when Pujara was on strike. He had a mission – to compile a huge score and stake a claim in the playing XI for the first Test against New Zealand less than a fortnight from now.

He went from strength to strength, rarely hustled into a false move. That he remained unconquered was not a surprise.

For Jackson, the motivation came from Pujara’s grind. He was certainly enterprising and did not suppress his shot-making instincts. He was harsh on the spinners, Amit Mishra and Kuldeep Yadav, who conceded 375 runs between them off 85 overs to claim a mere three wickets. This was Jackson’s fourth century outside Rajkot.

It was a testing phase for Jackson. Not that he had to compete with his partner but this was a stage to showcase his talent.

The disciplined innings, coming at the season's start, should propel him to bigger things. His compact defence and the ability to pave his innings with some robust shots make Jackson an interesting batsman to watch.

Pujara’s exemplary concentration once again came to the fore. He picked his bowlers to hit and was quick on his feet to make a point against the spinners. Not many balls passed Pujara’s bat and he spared no effort to capitalise on loose deliveries. The India Red bowlers had little clue and after a point just went through the motions.

The spinners came a cropper. Mishra lost his rhythm since the batsmen were happy to leave the crease. He ended up bowling much below his standards. For Kuldeep Yadav, the day was a lesson on how to bowl to batsmen in form. He too was unable to bowl a proper length and his short-pitched stuff proved easy fodder.

The shoddy fielding by India Red also let the bowlers down as a few catches were put down.

It was Pankaj who emerged the bowler of the day with two balls that stood out. Abhinav may count himself unlucky since the ball stayed low but it also cut in menacingly on pitching. India Red has a hard job on the third day with the threat of the ball staying low.

Brief scores:

India Blue 1st innings: 693/6 decl. (Cheteshwar Pujara 256 not out, 363b, 28x4, Sheldon Jackson 134, 204b, 15x4 2x6; Amit Mishra 2/171)
India Red 1st innings: 16/2 (Shikhar Dhawan batting on 14, 25b, 2x4, Yuvraj Singh batting on 0, 26b; Pankaj Singh 2/12)