Hanuma Vihari’s South Zone will need to hit the ground running when it faces North Zone in the Duleep Trophy semifinal at the Salem Cricket Foundation (SCF) ground from Thursday.
Led by Punjab batter Mandeep Singh, North has already clocked enough game time during the quarterfinal when it beat the East Zone in Pondicherry with a first-innings lead. Meanwhile, the South had qualified directly to the semifinal alongside Central Zone after finishing as the finalists of the last Duleep Trophy season held in the zonal format, back in 2014/15.
Skipper Vihari will be in focus for South after his demotion from the India A squad. The 28-year-old, who recently made the switch from Hyderabad to Andhra Pradesh for this domestic season, led India A on its tour to South Africa in December 2021. He finished the series as the leading run-getter with 227 runs from five innings.
“We are kind of playing at home. We are familiar with these conditions and will try to make the best use of them. We have a good combination of players. Hopefully, we’ll get the right start and take the game forward from there,” said Vihari on the eve of the match.
South Zone has assembled a mix of proven domestic batters from the last Ranji Trophy season, alongside a few who are aiming for meaty outings to return to the national radar. Karnataka teammates Mayank Agarwal and Devdutt Padikkal will be eyeing a fresh start at the top of the order after their lean runs in the previous season.
The inclusion of Rohan Kunnummal - a standout performer in the 2021/22 red-ball season (417 runs, four innings) - could force a toss-up between the Kerala opener and Padikkal in the XI. Karnataka captain Manish Pandey is the big name in the middle-order which is bolstered by the availability of spin-bowling all-rounders, Sai Kishore and Krishnappa Gowtham. Hyderabad’s Ravi Teja, left-armer CV Stephen and Kerala speedster Basil Thampi are expected to form South’s pace trio.
Meanwhile, North will be hoping young opener Yash Dhull to score big once again after his 193 against East last week. The century was Dhull’s fourth First Class ton in as many games. Senior pacers Navdeep Saini and Siddarth Kaul will helm North’s seam attack.
Vihari conceded that the bowlers could be in for a stretch with the Kookaburra ball in effect for the tournament. The Kookaburra tends to soften up after the initial phase of 20-odd overs, making run-scoring smoother thereafter. Teams would want to win the toss and bat as the curators expect an average scoring wicket.
Vihari also appreciated the SCF facility which will be hosting its maiden senior First Class match. “This is one of the coolest grounds in India. Even the scenery around adds great value to the ground. The training facilities are also pretty good,” he said.
However, local fans will have to wait longer to get a glimpse of the action as spectators have been barred due to “security reasons.”
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