West Zone clinched a record-extending 19th Duleep Trophy title in emphatic fashion, beating South Zone by 294 runs on the fifth day of the final on Sunday.
While South Zone was left ruing missed opportunities on the field and lack of application with the bat, West Zone learnt a lesson in discipline in victory when skipper Ajinkya Rahane sent double-centurion Yashasvi Jaiswal off the field for repeatedly exchanging words with T Ravi Teja.
With just four wickets separating West Zone and the title, Teja and R. Sai Kishore had put up a brave front, delaying the inevitable for more than 20 overs before the latter guided a short one from Chintan Gaja to Rahane at gully. Shams Mulani ensured the contest didn’t crawl into the second session by trapping Teja with his arm ball and drawing Basil Thampi’s outside edge to silly point in quick succession.
When Krishnappa Gowtham slog swept Tanush Kotian to the square leg fielder, the West Zone players were muted in their celebrations, perhaps unwilling to incur their skipper’s nonchalant wrath at that opportune moment.
“You have to follow the rules, and respect the game and the opponents and the umpires. That is the way I have always played my cricket and will continue to play. Certain things you have to follow on the field. If you are not following you have to go off the field. It is as simple as that. That is my mantra,” Rahane said after the match, befitting of a former India Test captain now guiding the youth in domestic cricket.
The skipper promptly asked Jaiswal, who was fielding at second slip, to leave the field after warning the 20-year-old a few overs earlier about maintaining discipline. Substitute fielder Satyajeet Bacchav came in place of Jaiswal, who returned to the field seven overs after being sent off.
The incident, however, did little to mar Jaiswal’s double-hundred in the second innings, which enabled West Zone to overcome a 57-run first innings deficit and then set South Zone an improbable 529 to win.
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“I think credit (goes) to Jaiswal, the way he batted in the second innings, the momentum he created for us, I think completely took the game away from South Zone,” Rahane said.
Jaiswal was aided by Sarfaraz Khan’s unbeaten 127 in the second innings, who carried his red-hot Ranji Trophy form into the tournament. Both Mumbai batters, much like Prithvi Shaw in the semifinal, typified the value of playing with the intent of scoring rather than grinding on a pitch that offered generous bounce throughout.
South Zone’s Baba Indrajith and Rohan Kunnummal exhibited that virtue in the first and second innings, respectively, but found little support from India internationals Mayank Agarwal, Hanuma Vihari and Manish Pandey.
The limited resources in the pace department didn’t help South Zone with Thampi, VC Stephen and Teja picking just four wickets between them in the match, compared to Jaydev Unadkat, Atit Sheth and Chintan Gaja’s 14.
“In the fast-bowling department, we had limited resources. After the second day there wasn’t much for the spinners. Our strength was spin and we could not get much out of it,” captain Vihari said.
That Jaiswal was awarded three lives (two dropped catches and one missed stumping) and Sarfaraz was reprieved on one occasion only added to South Zone’s woes.
“We didn’t help ourselves with dropped catches and missed stumpings. We were poor on the field and there is no hiding from it,” Vihari acknowledged.
The Duleep Trophy, returning to the zonal format after eight years, ushered in the first full-fledged domestic season since the COVID-19 pandemic.
The journeymen and budding stars were soaking in the moment of the trophy celebrations, the veterans looked on with composed amusement and a steadily growing throng of fans lined up outside the gates of the college ground. Indian domestic cricket was in its element again.