Utkarsh Singh’s match-defining 104-ball 89 led East Zone’s chillingly efficient six-wicket demolition of Central Zone in a Deodhar Trophy fixture at the Cricket Association of Puducherry (CAP) Ground 3 on Monday.
The left-hander’s knock made short work of the 208-run target after Shahbaz Ahmed (three for 30), Akash Deep (three for 35) and Manisankar Murasingh (three for 29) bundled out Central Zone cheaply.
Utkarsh was off the blocks with a hint of streakiness as he slashed hard outside off and collected boundaries off the edges. Abhimanyu Easwaran, at the other end, was slow to start but soon preyed on the pacers’ fuller deliveries with wristly flicks and elegant drives while Utkarsh pounced on the shorter stuff, cutting and driving through the square with graceful languor often associated with southpaws.
The openers, who added 91 runs for the first wicket inside 19 overs, forced Venkatesh Iyer, who has refrained from bowling of late, to roll his arm over.
Karn Sharma then hit back with two quick wickets, but Central’s celebrations were understandably subdued. Subhransu Senapati’s stodgy unbeaten 65-ball 33 only delayed the inevitable as East Zone sailed home with 23 balls to spare.
Earlier, Rinku Singh’s (54, 63b, 1x4, 2x6) levelheadedness was bookended by his teammates’ batting meltdowns. After East Zone elected to field, its pacers capitalised on the overcast conditions by having the ball on a string just outside off-stump in the short of good-length area. The first 10 overs yielded just 26 runs as openers Madhav Kaushik and Aryan Juyal batted with caution bordering paranoia.
It didn’t help Central’s cause that Juyal, who looked the more assured of the two, retired hurt after trying to steal a quick single in the 12th over. Kaushik’s painstaking 47-ball 13 vigil ended when he edged behind trying to cut a Shahbaz delivery just after showing signs of breaking free with a slog-sweep to the boundary. Skipper Venkatesh, looking to smother the spin, became Shahbaz’s second victim when he was trapped leg-before playing off the backfoot.
Akash was rewarded for his discipline in the first spell with a wicket in the second when Yash Dubey nicked behind, poking in the corridor, and Shahbaz had his third when Shivam Chaudhary perished trying to crank through the gears.
Karn mounted a 58-run defiance with Rinku as the left-handed duo found the gaps and pinched the ones and twos off the spinners.
Rinku’s first scoring shot of the day was a flat-batted swat to long-off, reminiscent of the fifth six in that fabled 31-run last over in IPL 2023. However, he reined himself in and struck a solitary four and a couple of sixes on his way to a 65-ball half-century, which would have impressed national selectors Shiv Sunder Das and Subroto Banerjee, who were in attendance.
Eventually, a delivery from Murasingh kept low and had him leg-before as Central Zone lost its last six wickets for 35 runs, with Akash and Murasingh inflicting the damage with their variations.
Juyal limped back to the creased and struck a couple of fours to stretch the total beyond 200, but Central Zone was always falling short.
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