East Zone wanted to win it. And Central Zone was too considerate. The final of the premier cricket tournament of the country reflected the poor cricketing acumen and priorities prevalent in domestic cricket as Central Zone lost the Duleep Trophy contest by an innings and 20 runs with two-and-a-half days to spare.
It was East's maiden Duleep Trophy title and nothing exemplified it better than the spirit and camaraderie that marked the celebrations at the Holkar Stadium here on Tuesday. Clicking pictures for each other, letting out joyous cheers and acknowledging the victory as a team effort portrayed East as a perfect cohesive unit.
It was indeed commendable that East won all its matches away from home conditions, beating West Zone at Valsad and North Zone at Delhi in the previous matches.
Lack of discipline was apparent in the dismissals of the Central Zone batsmen.
From a healthy 79 for no loss, Central was bowled out for 217 with no less than five batsmen falling to indiscreet shots.
Mohammad Kaif played a pull and holed out to mid-on; Robin Bist played a pull only to sky the ball for wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha to snap an easy catch; Jalaj Saxena, having thrown his bat at practically every ball, top-edged to long-leg. It hardly mattered how the rest perished since the top order had set an abysmal trend.
“What do you expect me to tell the batsmen at this level,” said a dejected Central skipper Piyush Chawla.
He too was part of the poor shot selection syndrome. “We must accept we didn't bat well and they outplayed us. Their bowlers made our batsmen think. Credit to them,” Chawla was realistic in admitting Central's follies.
East had a plan in place. Mohammad Shami, an athletic competitor, produced the ball of the match when he got rid of Naman Ojha. The ball had pace and bounce and Saha took the catch just above shoulder height.
It was a tribute to a wonderful pitch crafted by Taposh Chatterjee, the curator from Rajasthan, who monitored the preparation for this contest.
The ball seamed the whole day and the true bounce encouraged the bowlers to give their best.
Shami loved to dig it in and Ashok Dinda too likes to hit the deck.
They rattled the Central batsmen with their sustained accuracy, highlighting the role of former India seamer Debasis Mohanty, the coach of the team. Mohanty remained the silent force behind East's rise in this tournament.
East skipper Natraj Behera summed it up well. “We supported each other right through and it is indeed a matter of pride for all us.”
East made history on the strength of immense self-belief and self-pride, qualities that Central sadly did not possess!
The scores: Central Zone —1st innings: 133.
East Zone — 1st innings: 370.
Central Zone — 2nd innings: Naman Ojha c Saha b Shami 36, Jalaj Saxena c Mohanty b Dinda 46, Mohammad Kaif c Dinda b Shami 13, Mohnish Mishra c Anustup Majumdar b Dinda 44, Robin Bist c Saha b Dinda 20, Parvinder Singh lbw b Shami 6, Piyush Chawla c Dinda b Shami 6, Bhuvneshwar Kumar c Majumdar b Nadeem 29, T. Sudhindra c Shami b Nadeem 9, Rituraj Singh (not out) 1, Vineet Saxena (absent hurt); Extras (b-2, lb-1, nb-4): 7; Total (in 61 overs): 217.
Fall of wickets: 1-79, 2-93, 3-101, 4-139, 5-146, 6-158, 7-192, 8-212, 9-217.
East Zone bowling: Ashok Dinda 25-5-94-3, Mohanty 15-3-58-0, Shami 18-8-50-4, Shahbaz Nadeem 3-0-12-2.
Keywords: Duleep Trophy