Wet weather or dark skies interrupted the Duleep Trophy 2023 semi-final in Bengaluru 17 times across the four days.
Duleep Trophy 2023: The intermittent monsoon rain had most people feeling lethargic, not least when play was to begin at 3.50 pm local time – after what would be the final delay – and South Zone requiring just another 32 runs for victory with six wickets in hand.
The 20-member ground staff looked determined to get the game going, animatedly wiping, dusting and tending to various parts of the pitch and the outfield which had taken damage.
And when play was finally ready to resume, the partnership for the fifth wicket, between young guns Tilak Varma and Ricky Bhui, stood at 42 off just 24 balls. Grey clouds lingered above, it seemed like rain could stop play any moment again, and South were running out of time. So Varma and Bhui knew it was now or never.
And that produced a mistake. With the requirement reduced to 24, Bhui found the fine-leg fielder off the fifth ball of the 32nd over, bowled by Baltej Singh. South were five down, with Varma firm, and Washington Sundar in next. It was still very much possible.
Duleep Trophy 2023: Even two balls later, when Prabhsimran Singh tumbled to his left to have Varma caught behind off Harshit Rana, it felt far from fatal. After all, Washington was there at the other end, and the incoming Sai Kishore was a handy lower-order batter.
Even as North got those back-to-back wickets, their captain Jayant Yadav was trying to eat up precious time. The 33rd over took as long as ten minutes, with the next one by Harshit consuming just as much, as the bowlers took their time in tying shoelaces, digging up the heels of those shoes and waiting for the field to be set just right.
Darkness was approaching, and the rain clouds were hanging right above but Jayant was in no hurry. After all, a draw would have been enough to push North into the final thanks to a first-innings lead of three runs.
Sai Kishore swung Baltej for six over long-on in the 34th over, which ended with South at 201 for 6. Only 14 more to get. There was comfort. It was a matter of two or three good hits, especially with Washington on strike to the start the 35th. I got into scribbling my report for the day, the first line of which already mentioned a four-wicket win for South, with Washington and Sai Kishore unbeaten.
But Washington gave a catch to deep extra cover and the tension finally began to build. Suddenly, the small bunch of spectators, who had been hooting so loudly that vuvuzelas would have fallen short, were checked in their cheer.
Duleep Trophy 2023: The new batter was No. 9 KV Sasikanth, who was under pressure to give the strike to the more dependable Sai Kishore. Momentum was tilting towards North with the late drama, and yet Jayant and Baltej took 12 minutes to get the 35th over done. They tried to slow the game down, and sitting in the dressing room, South’s captain Hanuma Vihari had no objection to such tactics.
North Zone captain Jayant Yadav has a chat with umpire Rohan Pandit PTI
“We have come across a lot of games where teams are trying to delay the final few overs to take advantage, which is not wrong,” he said after the day’s play. “Even if I was the captain, I would have done the same thing… so anything to win, [but] to a point. I think it was fair. Overall, I wouldn’t complain.”
During the course of that 35th over, which took longer than an entire innings break, Sasikanth dispatched a six over deep square leg. The partisan crowd found its voice again, yelling and whistling to remind everyone of their presence. On the field, the umpires had to separate a charged-up Sai Kishore and Harshit.
And off it, even superstars Rishabh Pant and Hardik Pandya, who were working at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) there, were watching from the stands. So was the NCA’s head VVS Laxman.
Two more to win. Three wickets in hand. Sasikanth facing Baltej. Fielders in most directions are halfway towards the rope, except the man at midwicket, who was Jayant himself. Baltej bowls one full and straight, and Sasikanth chips to Jayant. Eight down.
Or maybe it wasn’t. The umpires asked Sasikanth to wait while he was walking back, confirming from their colleague upstairs if Baltej’s front foot was within permissible limits. The next batter Vijaykumar Vyshak was halfway into the field of play, perhaps praying that it was indeed a no-ball so he won’t to face up to a fired up Baltej.
The wait grew longer and longer, the stress multiplied – like it used to do in school when board exam results are out and we’re searching for our marks – before Sasikanth was given out.
While speaking after the third day’s play, Vyshak was asked if the three-run lead they had conceded would end up hurting South, considering the inclement weather and he said, “if somebody had got an extra boundary, or maybe if we could have stopped one boundary per bowler, it would have made a difference”.
Now there he was with bat in hand. Two runs to win. Two wickets remaining.
A nervous-looking Varma sat under an umbrella right below the journalists in the press box, as Vyshak took guard. All Vyshak had to do was negotiate Baltej’s three remaining deliveries. And he did that. Each time the ball hit the bat and dribbled away safely, the crowd rallied, with every roar louder than the previous one.
Duleep Trophy 2023: Jayant replaced Harshit with himself. Sai Kishore on strike, with two runs to get. The field tempts the batter to go over the top, and Jayant goes full on middle and off. Sai Kishore spots it early, and heaves the ball over long-on for another six. Game over.
Yet again, those at the P3 stand screamed themselves hoarse. Their prayers were answered. The sound of their eruption must have travelled all the way to the nearby Cubbon Park. In the end, South squeezed home by two wickets under grey skies and dying light; the last 5.5 overs had taken 53 minutes, which was met with no protest. Even those 17 interruptions in play seemed worth it.