The signs to play out >for a draw< were apparent from as early as the first hour of play on the fourth and final day of the Duleep Trophy game between India Blue and India Green on Wednesday (September 7). The eventual draw ended with India Green ending with 179 for 4 in the chase of an improbable 769 and India Blue sealing their spot in the final against India Red.
At the Greater Noida Sports Complex Ground, the chance to eke out a result was as good as squandered when India Blue decided to bat on day three, instead of enforcing a follow on, after India Green were bowled out in the first innings for 237. With a strong lead of 470, Gautam Gambhir, the India Blue captain, was more than glad to give his batters a hit out, while resting his bowlers ahead of the finals - quite on the contrary of his ideology of attacking captaincy.
The mindset of playing out for a draw and not going for the win became even more apparent after India Blue did not declare on the final day despite the track turning square early. That, the India Green spinners accounted for nine wickets of the ten in the second innings, led by Shreyas Gopal, who returned 4 for 53, was evidence for the same. They, however, continued to bat until they were bowled out for 268, with a lead of 768 in the second session.
With the game headed towards a draw dreary, it was >Pragyan Ojha's freak injury< that was a cause of concern after he was hit on the back of his head in the second session while fielding at mid-on. Ojha was the victim to some awkward bounce after Pankaj Singh heaved a fullish delivery against the line towards him. The spinner tried getting his body behind it but the bounce caught him off guard and he was struck flush. He instantly fell to the ground and was stretchered off the field and rushed to the hospital. MRIs and CT scans were conducted and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) later tweeted a picture of him and declared his condition stable.
Jalaj Saxena was promoted up the order to open for India Green alongside Murali Vijay in the second innings. However, he was dismissed in the third over, which brought together Robin Uthappa (66) and Vijay (73), who put on a 116-run stand, taking their side into the dinner break with only the one wicket down.
When play resumed, the duo was dismissed by Karn Sharma in the space of five overs. Parthiv Patel departed in the next over after Vijay with Parvez Rasool picking up his second wicket for the game, but Saurabh Tiwary and Shreyas saw them through until the end of play. While India Blue were clinical for most parts of the game across aspects, the dropped catches and freebies bowled in the second innings, particularly during the Uthappa-Vijay stand, hinted at the intent of just fulfilling mere formalities, which is what the final day was all about from the beginning.
Earlier in the day, India Green began positively with the three quick wickets of Mayank Agarwal (58), Gambhir (59) and Siddhesh Lad (1) within the first half hour of play. Dinesh Karthik then started rebuilding with Cheteshwar Pujara racing away to a quickfire half-century, displaying an array of strokes that hit the ball all around the stadium, particularly going after Ojha, as he took him for as many as five boundaries, scoring 23 runs off 14 balls.
Shreyas dismissed Karthik for a 45-ball 57, after which India Blue lost three wickets for one run and were reduced to 227 for 7. Sheldon Jackson fought his way through with the tailenders and took his side to 298, en route an unbeaten 77-ball 79.
India Blue will now have a two-day break before the final at the same venue starting on Saturday (September 10). Both teams will be boosted by the return of the Indian team from the conclusion of the Twenty20 International (T20I) series. Rohit Sharma and Ravindra Jadeja will join the Blues, while Reds will have Shikhar Dhawan joining their 15-man squad named for the final by the All India senior selection committee.
Brief scores: India Blue 707 in 176.3 overs (Cheteshwar Pujara 166, Mayank Agarwal 161, Sheldon Jackson 105, Gautam Gambhir 90; Shreyas Gopal 5-173) & 298 in 66.2 overs (Mayank Agarwal 58, Gautam Gambhir 59, Sheldon Jackson 79*; Pragyan Ojha 3-90, Shreyas Gopal 4-53) drew with India Green 237 in 61 overs (Parthiv Patel 55, Suresh Raina 52; Abhimanyu Mithun 3-16, Karn Sharma 3-74) and 179/4 in 34 overs (Murali Vijay 73, Robin Uthappa 66; Karn Sharma 2-68).