Central Zone's Madhya Pradesh duo of Jalaj Saxena and wicketkeeper batsman Naman Ojha took full advantage of dropped catches and took an inexperienced North Zone attack to the cleaners as they posted 344 for three at stumps, on the first day of their Duleep Trophy semi-final, at Mohali, on Wednesday.
Opener Jalaj struck 110 while Ojha, who is in the form of his life, was undefeated on 122 as none of the North bowlers deployed by captain Gautam Gambhir could create an impact on a placid PCA Stadium track.
The North Zone fielders dropped as many as four catches, Ojha being dropped twice -- on 12 and 27 off Yuzvendra Chahal and Rishi Dhawan's bowling. The offenders were Parvinder Awana at mid-on in the first case and wicketkeeper Nitin Saini in the second.
In fact, Saxena also got a reprieve on personal score of 75 while Ashok Menaria (batting 53) was dropped once.
Ojha served a timely reminder to the selectors that he still is in the mix, with scores of 219 not out, 101 not out, 110 and 122 batting in his last four first-class innings. His first three centuries were during the two first-class matches against Australia A, Down Under.
Central skipper Piyush Chawla won the toss and rightly elected to bat. Vidarbha opener Faiz Fazal (22) edged one off Rishi Dhawan after the Central openers saw off the first hour, putting on 55 on the board.
Robin Bist (20) did not last long, bowled by Jammu and Kashmir's medium pacer Samiullah Beigh. However Jalaj and Ojha, then conjured up a 140 runs partnership in just 36 overs to up the ante. Jalaj hit 17 boundaries in his 187-ball knock while Ojha has so far hit 14 boundaries and two sixes off 193 balls.
Ojha completed his 17th first-class century with a deft late cut boundary off Chahal.
The unbroken fourth-wicket stand with Menaria has so far yielded 107 runs, Menaria hitting six boundaries off the 93 balls he has faced so far.
Rishi Dhawan’s 2 for 93 were the best figures for North.
Brief Scores: Central Zone 344/3 in 90 overs (Naman Ojha 122 batting, Jalaj Saxena 110, Ashok Menaria 53 batting, Rishi Dhawan 2-93) vs North Zone.
Image: Naman Ojha
Photograph: Matt Roberts/Getty Images