Rinku Singh (65, 71b, 7x4, 2x6) was the only silver lining for Central Zone as West Zone romped home to a 279-run win on the fourth and final day of the Duleep Trophy semifinal at the SNR College Cricket Ground in Coimbatore on Sunday.
Rinku’s cameo, which included seven fours and two sixes, was a masterclass in tackling spin. He went down the ground after charging to the pitch of the ball and played off the backfoot either side of square on the off-side to hammer Shams Mulani (five for 72) for four fours and two sixes.
A brief spell of showers broke the momentum and soon after the covers came off, Mulani got his tormentor caught at short-leg. The end of the 88-run resistance by Rinku and Ashok Menaria, concussion replacement for Venkatesh Iyer, brought Central Zone hurtling down as the last three fell for 12 with Mulani’s fifer heralding West Zone’s march into the final.
Earlier in the morning, an air of certainty crept over the ground as Central Zone’s overnight batters took guard. Facing hopeless odds of needing 468 on the final day, Kumar Kartikeya and Shubham Sharma decided to go down all guns blazing. The duo added 64 runs in 91 balls with nightwatchman Kartikeya punishing the fuller lengths of pacers Jaydev Unadkat and Chintan Gaja with his drives until he played down the wrong line and lost his off-stump to Atit Sheth.
Shubham cut loose with two consecutive pull shots to the boundary off Gaja before a barrage of bouncers from both ends put a stranglehold on the run-scoring. He eventually edged behind to the wicketkeeper as Mulani got one to turn sharply away from the right-hander. After a salvo of short-pitched bowling, Gaja came back and aimed for the hard lengths. He moved the ball away to get Karan Sharma’s outside edge and nipped it in to trap Priyam Garg leg-before-wicket. Both fell in quick succession as Central Zone threatened to unravel inside the first session.
Ranji Trophy final 2.0
The match was touted as a virtual rematch of the Ranji Trophy 2021-22 final with West Zone and Central Zone fielding five finalists each from Mumbai and Madhya Pradesh, respectively. Safe to say, Mumbai settled the score.
Prithvi Shaw’s flamboyance, on a pitch that favoured shot-making, trumped MP’s stoic top-order comprising Himanshu Mantri, Yash Dubey and Shubham Sharma and turned the match on its head.
While Mumbai spinner Mulani (5/72 & 1/30) levelled with Kartikeya (5/66 & 3/105) with his second-innings fifer, what also hurt Central Zone, other than its insipid batting in the first innings, was West Zone’s tail. On top of taking nine wickets between them, Mulani and Kotian added 134 runs combined in the lower-order. Their 74-run stand in the first innings after the side was tottering at 152 for six a case in point.
The final hurdle awaits West Zone in the form of South Zone, which is coming off a thumping 650-run win over North Zone in the second semifinal, at the same venue starting Wednesday.