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North snatch initiative from West
Bikash Mohapatra in Mumbai | February 19, 2008 20:04 IST
It was a match featuring the best teams in the competition. It was supposed to be a battle of attrition. It was supposed to an evenly balanced contest that would go down to the wire.
The Duleep Trophy final between North Zone and West Zone, at the Wankhede stadium in Mumbai, was supposed to be a decider to watch out for. However, at the end of the opening day's play, all these suppositions remained what they were meant to be in the first place: suppositions.
And it was defending champions North Zone who defied all of them, ending the first day's play on 53 without loss after dismissing their opponents for 274 in the first essay.
It might be a tad premature to predict that the defending champions will comfortably retain their title. But it would be appropriate to mention that after the opening day's effort on the field, North are very much in the driver's seat and their opponents now have the onus to play flawless stuff henceforth to entertain any hopes of victory.
Having said that, it is also imperative to say that West had things under control early on. It is just that they couldn't tighten their stranglehold.
Put into bat by North skipper Mithun Manhas, West began well and reached 130/2 at lunch (@ more than four runs per over).
Wasim Jaffer [Images], back after a disastrous tour of Australia, looked in good touch during his short-but-sweet innings -- his 32-ball 23 including as many as five sweetly timed hits to the fence -- before he nicked a VRV Singh delivery into the gloves of Uday Kaul.
In came the in-form Ajinkya Rahane and his second wicket partnership with a very patient Sahil Kukreja (28 off 92 balls) was worth 86 runs. Amit Mishra cleaned up Kukreja just before lunch but West still had the upper hand in the first session.
However, any hopes of West building on their initial advantage suffered in the second over after lunch when VRV grabbed two wickets in successive balls to the wrest the initiative for North.
He first induced an outside edge from West skipper Parthiv Patel (1) and then yorked the immensely talented Cheteshwar Pujara off the very next ball.
Rakesh Solanki put on 31 for the fifth wicket with Rahane, and another 47 for the sixth with Yusuf Pathan, but the damage had already been done. West were reduced to 233 for six at tea.
And it took North exactly 50 balls in the post-tea session to wrap the West tail. Rahane was the highest scorer with an impressive 91, off just 112 balls; his knock comprised as many as 18 boundaries.
Significantly, it was the aggression in his batting that had North on the backfoot till he was in the crease. However, when Vikramjeet Malik trapped him in front, he missed out on yet another century and was palpably disappointed.
"Obviously, I'm disappointed. This is the third time this season that I've got out in the 90s," said Rahane, admitting that he might have been nervous.
"You can call it nervousness but we had a lost a couple of quick wickets after lunch and it was important to keep the runs going."
The rest of the West Zone batting perished, mainly due to some careless shots and accurate bowling.
Solanki (38, six fours), Pathan (27, four fours), Rakesh Dhruv (20 not out, four fours) and even Ashraf Makda (14, three fours), all hit a plethora of boundaries but failed where it mattered most -- preserving their wickets.
And that is where North succeeded. VRV finished with impressive figures of 5 for 91 and was ably supported by Mishra (3 for 57).
Aakash Chopra (35 not out) and Shikar Dhawan (35 not out) negotiated 16 overs and put on 53 before play was called off. However, by then North had learnt something which West had failed to: scoring runs at a good pace while also having wickets in hand.
West Zone (1st innings):
Fall of wickets: 1-34, 2-122, 3-139, 4-139, 5-170, 6-217, 7-238, 8-247, 9-270.
Bowling: VRV Singh 20-4-91-5, VS Malik 13-3-32-1, AK Thakur 12-1-39-0, A Bhatia 6-1-34-0, A Mishra 17.2-5-57-3.
North Zone (1st innings):
Bowling: S K Trivedi 7-3-8-0, A M Makada 4-2-14-0, Y K Pathan 4-0-22-0, R V Dhurv 1-0-9-0.
Photograph: Bikash Mohapatra