North and East summon the best

MOHALI, MARCH 3. The Duleep Trophy has finally been granted the status it deserves. The teams in the final, North and East, have summoned their best available players and the National selectors will be in full strength to scout for some outstanding talent in view of the three-match Test series against Pakistan later this month.

"It's the biggest match of domestic cricket and I'm sure each player will try to give his best,'' North skipper Dinesh Mongia summed up the mood of his camp. Devang Gandhi, who has led East with a degree of competence, was equally confident when he remarked, "the entire season we have performed like a team and I know this will be our strength in this match. We believe in playing like a team.''

There will be plenty for the selectors to take stock of the talent reserves. There is Haryana medium-fast bowler Joginder Sharma, a strapping youngster who bowls quick and bats with flair. The batsmen in north of India are convinced he is a player to watch in the times to come and this should be the stage for this young man to grab his chance. The opportunities similarly beckon Ajay Ratra, the wicketkeeper from Haryana so callously dumped by the National selectors. "I'm trying my best,'' was all he could say when reflecting upon the last two seasons.

The return of Ashish Nehra to the team does bolster the bowling potency of North. "Nehra's presence will be a big boost. We have been bowling well in our matches. I am not worried on the bowling front but our batting, strong on paper, will have to improve. Looking at the match, it is important that we play well on all the five days. Consistency counts a lot in such situations,'' Mongia observed.

Gavaskar brings solidity to the East middle-order. He had missed the last match at Amritsar due to fever but is raring to go. "It's nice to have Rohan back in the side. Our batsmen have a job to do,'' admitted Gandhi. The East skipper also noted that the contributions of medium-pacer Shib Sankar Paul and off-spinner Sourasish Lahiri will be crucial. "They have bowled superbly this season and I'm looking forward for a similar performance from both,'' said Gandhi.

Once again, like in Amritsar, the pitch appears a lovely strip of grass. Enough to cause excitement in both the camps, what with the bowlers hardly suppressing their smiles. East, playing in a Duleep final after 22 years, has never won the title in four appearances in the last round. This could well be the motivation for them to surprise an opposition which fancies its chances.

The match will be telecast `live' on DD Sports.

The teams (from):

North Zone: Dinesh Mongia (Captain), Akash Chopra, Gautam Gambhir, Pankaj Dharmani, Mithun Manhas, Sangram Singh, Ajay Ratra, Joginder Sharma, Amit Bhandari, Sarandeep Singh, Ashish Nehra, Gagandeep Singh, Sandeep Sharma, Fazil Mohammad, Vishal Bhatia.

East Zone: Devang Gandhi (Captain), Deep Dasgupta, Shib Sundar Das, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Arindam Das, Rohan Gavaskar, Utpal Chatterjee, Sourasish Lahiri, Laxmi Ratan Shukla, Shib Sankar Paul, Debasish Mohanty, Kiran Powar, Chetan Sachdeva, Rajeev Kumar, Vasanth Saravanan.

Umpires: Messrs I. Sivaram and Jasbir Singh; Match Referee: Mr. Bhagwan Dass.