The thing about even tussles is they are normally laden with familiar flavours, of mutual respect for proven ability and the excitement that comes with trying to outsmart an equal competitor. The Duleep Trophy semifinal between defending champion South Zone and Central Zone, beginning here on Saturday, promises to be exactly that.
Both teams have in their possession some marquee names: the man-to-man contests are certainly something to look forward to. For South Zone, Dinesh Karthik's recent form should be heartening.
The 26-year-old 'keeper's performance in the Ranji Trophy (624 runs) has been punctuated by doughty centuries againstRajasthan (in the final) and Madhya Pradesh, both at home.
Karthik's knowledge of the local conditions is, therefore, more than likely to complement his good run in the middle-order.
V. Yomahesh has also punched above his weight this season. With 323 runs and 23 wickets in the Ranji season, his dual role has been critical for Tamil Nadu. Yomahesh's versatility will lend balance to the side. The prolific Abhinav Mukund, skipper S. Badrinath, Robin Uthappa, and Pragyan Ojha will have big parts to enact as well.
As the only batsman to aggregate more than 1,000 runs in this year's Ranji Trophy, Robin Bist will be required to marshal Central's run-scoring endeavour. The batting core will also be strengthened by Vineet Saxena, Mohammad Kaif and Naman Ojha.
Rituraj Singh, Rajasthan's newest pace sensation, has garnered much attention with his wicket-taking spree (26 wickets) in the team's Ranji conquest this season.
Still in his first year of first-class cricket, Rituraj, 21, has won praise from the likes of Dennis Lillee. His raw, unorthodox approach can be the X-factor for Central. T.P. Sudhindra, the leading wicket-taker (40) in this year's Ranji Trophy, Pankaj Singh and captain Piyush Chawla complete an able bowling unit.
Murali Vijay's injury means a reprisal of last year's batting order — Mukund, Uthappa, Badrinath and Manish Pandey — is on the cards for South.
Badrinath confirmed on Friday that three seamers would be included. “The wicket has some moisture. It may be slightly quicker than the one in which we played the Ranji final. We will have three fast bowlers for sure.” Chawla, on the other hand, felt the wicket was flat. “We are looking to strengthen our batting. There is good depth… Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jalaj (Saxena), and I can bat quite a bit in the later stages.”
The teams (from):
South Zone: S. Badrinath (captain), Abhinav Mukund (vice-captain), Dinesh Karthik, V. Yo Mahesh, J. Kaushik, Robin Uthappa, Manish Pandey, Abhimanyu Mithun, Amit Verma, Stuart Binny, K.P. Appanna, Sony K. Cheruvathur, Pragyan Ojha, P. Akshath Reddy, Syed Ahmed Quadri, Coach: Edwin Joseph.
Central Zone: Piyush Chawla (captain), Robin Bist, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Naman Ojha, Nikhil Paradkar, Jalaj Saxena, Rituraj Singh, T.P. Sudhindra, Ashish Yadav, Mohammad Kaif, Mohnish Mishra, Pankaj Singh, Parvinder Singh, Vineet Saxena, Tanmay Srivatsava, Coach: Gyanendra Pandey.
Umpires: Amiesh Saheba and Subrat Das.
Keywords: Duleep Trophy