East Zone’s immunity to damaging blows and the will to tenaciously defend low scores helped it emerge Duleep Trophy champion after defeating Central Zone in the final for the second consecutive season, here on Thursday.

On day five, Central folded for 189 to give East a first-innings lead of 43 runs; the margin proved immaterial as the lead was good enough for East to prove its victory last time wasn’t a matter of chance. The team’s mood was best illustrated by Ashoke Dinda, who, stump in hand, went on a victory sprint after last man Murali Kartik was dismissed. Technically, a few overs were left for East to bat in its second innings.

Ishank Jaggi was adjudged man-of-the-match for his unbeaten century in the first innings.

Earlier, East’s plans were executed by left-arm spinner Iresh Saxena (five for 58) and leggie Anustup Majumdar (four for 29) – who provided the element of surprise.

It was part-timer Majumdar, who broke a 50-run fifth-wicket stand between Tanmay Srivatsava (94, 252b,8x4) and Mahesh Rawat (who had to cope with vomiting bouts) just before tea. Rawat was caught behind off Majumdar in the latter’s first over. Iresh chipped in too when Jalaj Saxena had a dreadful moment – his slash at a full toss clipped the bat’s edge and reached first slip.

Soon, the 28-year-old Majumdar trapped Bhuvneshwar Kumar in front and had Praveen Kumar caught at covers following a suicidal heave. The contest was as good as over when Iresh denied Tanmay’s century and picked up his fifth wicket. The Uttar Pradesh left-hander, unhinged by the bounce, offered a catch to short-leg.

For nearly six hours, Tanmay batted with fine skill and equipoise, blunting reverse-swing and slow turn. He was the last link between Central and its elusive Duleep success (it last won the competition in 2004-05).

Central skipper Mohammad Kaif, while congratulating East, admitted the target was achievable. “We did well as a bowling unit, but unfortunately we couldn't build partnerships.”

His counterpart Natraj Behera said his team focused on enjoying the match. “After Anustup got his first wicket, he told me that he should bowl in every game.”

Iresh, who was playing in his first Duleep final, revealed he had asked his captain to give Majumdar the ball. “I knew he could bowl leg-spin and I wanted to switch ends as well. We never believed we would lose.”

Earlier, the familiar routine of overnight rain -- followed by -- sparkling sunshine-in- the-morning repeated itself. The prospect of the game spilling over to Friday – necessitated by the new rule that mandates an extra day if the first-innings lead wasn’t been achieved within five days in a knockout match – loomed large.

As play commenced at 12.15 p.m., East’s pace pairing of Dinda and Basant Mohanty, produced eight smouldering overs after Central resumed on 74 for two. Mohanty’s love for short-pitched stuff fetched him Robin Bist’s scalp. The batsman fended off a bouncer that wasn’t as quick as expected to gully. East, from that point, began to fight with vim.

The scores:

East Zone — 1st innings: 232.

Central Zone — 1st innings: Tanmay Srivastava c Jaggi b Iresh 94, Vineet Saxena c Mohanty b Iresh 22, Mohammad Kaif lbw b Iresh 2, Robin Bist c Jadhav b Mohanty 2, Ashok Menaria c Behera b Iresh 8, Mahesh Rawat c S.P. Gautam b Majumdar 24, Jalaj Saxena c Tiwary b Iresh 7, Bhuvneshwar Kumar lbw b Majumdar 0, Praveen Kumar c Iresh b Majumdar 1, Murali Kartik c Tiwary b Majumdar 17, Ishwar Pandey (not out) 3 ; Extras (b-1, w-1,nb-7) 9; Total (in 83.5 overs): 189.

Fall of wickets: 1-68 (Saxena), 2-74 (Kaif), 3-76 (Bist), 4-97 (Menaria), 5-147 (Rawat), 6-164 (Jalaj), 7-165 (Bhuvneshwar), 8-167 (Praveen), 9-178 (Srivastava).

East Zone bowling: Dinda 17-5-42-0, Basant Mohanty 16-5-29-1, Iresh Saxena 25-6-58-5, Alok Mangaraj 10-5-10-0, Biplab Samantray 6-2-12-0, Natraj Behera 2-0-8-0, Anustup Majumdar 7.5-0-29-4.

East Zone – 2nd innings: Dheeraj Jadhav (not out) 2, S.P. Gautam (not out) 4; Extras (w-2) 2; Total (for no loss in five overs): 8

Central Zone bowling: Praveen Kumar 3-1-5-0, Jalaj Saxena 2-0-3-0.

Man-of-the-match: Ishank Jaggi.

Keywords: Duleep Trophy

More In: Sport | Chennai | Cricket | Sports