A host of old plotlines, accentuated by the passage of time, will come together when East Zone takes on Central Zone in a Deodhar Trophy fixture at the Cricket Association Puducherry (CAP) Ground 3 on Monday.
As the contrived identities of three randomly selected teams by the BCCI make way for the return of the more relevant inter-zonal format for the 50-over tournament, East Zone will take little inspiration from the technicality of being defending champion, having won the title in 2014-15, the last time the Deodhar Trophy was contested between zonal teams.
Captain Saurabh Tiwary and Virat Singh are the only players in the East Zone team from that title-winning squad and will be the guiding lights of an inexperienced batting line-up comprising promising talent such as Sudip Kumar Gharami, Abishek Porel and Subhranshu Senapati.
Abhimanyu Easwaran, who has only peeped through the national selection door, without being allowed a significant leeway over its threshold, will have a point to prove, especially after scores of 0 and 11 in the recently concluded Duleep Trophy.
All-rounder Shahbaz Ahmed, under-utilised by Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) in IPL (Indian Premier League) 2023, will be a vital cog in balancing a team which is light on bowling resources and will hope to make a case for himself and add to his international experience of three ODIs.
His RCB teammate Akash Deep will spearhead the pace department, which will include Tripura’s Manishankar Murasingh, who picked a fifer against Central Zone in the Duleep Trophy.
Time heals but often also embarks on a cycle of bitter irony, making the regret of not progressing more pronounced. It has been four years since the 2019 ODI World Cup and the last edition of the Deodhar Trophy but Indian cricket is grappling with a similar question – what about the middle-order – especially in the wake of injuries to KL Rahul, Shreyas Iyer and Rishabh Pant.
As the home World Cup looms and the clamour for an ICC title grows louder, the Deodhar Trophy could throw up some answers. Rinku Singh, the miracle-maker of IPL 2023 who was recently included in India’s Asian Games squad, could be a contender while his Central Zone skipper Venkatesh Iyer, a stand-by for the Asiad, will also sense an outside opportunity though his lack of bowling of late hasn’t helped his cause.
However, given the pace battery at his disposal, few could blame Venkatesh if he chooses not to take the ball. Mohsin Khan, Akash Madhwal, Shivam Mavi, Aniket Chaudhary and Yash Thakur offer a tantalising array of options and form a formidable attack that will be a force to reckon with for all teams.
Meanwhile, the batting unit, stacked with personnel who average more than 50 in List A cricket (Yash Dubey, Madhav Kaushik, Rinku) and rounded off by all-rounder Aditya Sarwate, makes Central Zone a firm favourite to lift the title.
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