A result of hard work

Making history… jubilant members of the East Zone team after winning their maiden Duleep Trophy.-PICS: S. SUBRAMANIUM

That East Zone excelled on various pitches during the tournament highlighted the preparation that went into the building of the team that had no stars. It had good performers though. Ashok Dinda and Wriddhiman Saha led East Zone's challenge in bowling and batting respectively, and the support from the others ensured that the team stayed focused, writes Vijay Lokapally.

Winning away from home is always pleasant and memorable. And if it involves a team's first-ever title, the victory is all the more sweet. East Zone had set out with a fierce ambition of making history in the Duleep Trophy. The team achieved its goal in style at the Holkar Stadium by handing Central Zone an innings drubbing. It was East's maiden title triumph in the championship, and the best part of the feat was that it was a result of a collective show of strength.

That East Zone excelled on various pitches during the tournament highlighted the preparation that went into the building of the team that had no stars. It had good performers though. Ashok Dinda and Wriddhiman Saha led the team's challenge in bowling and batting respectively, and the support from the others ensured that the team stayed focused.

Anustup Majumdar, a diminutive but gutsy batsman, aggregated 348 runs with two centuries. He stood out for his timely contributions. With Saha mentoring the team through difficult stages, East Zone had the best batting combination. Saha made 294 in three innings with match-deciding centuries in the semifinal (against North Zone in Delhi) and final (against Central Zone in Indore).

“It was a highly motivated team. Great self-belief! Each player backed the other and that made the game easy for all. It was a pleasure to have such a wonderful bunch,” said the East Zone manager, Samir Dasgupta.

For East Zone coach Debasis Mohanty, it was an unforgettable moment, a culmination of hard work. His inputs helped the bowlers strike when it mattered. “I ensured that they did not get carried away just because the pitch was helpful. We had variety in the attack and that was a big plus. Dinda was sharp. Basant (Mahanty) was always there, nagging the batsmen with his superb length. (Mohammad) Shami was excellent in the final,” said the former India seamer.

Strike force… East Zone pace attack's spearheads, Ashok Dinda and Mohammad Shami.-

Shami, a sprightly boy from Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh, who went to Bengal because his state rejected him thrice in the junior trials, played the final because Abu Nechim had to return home with a shoulder injury. Nechim had made a stellar contribution for East Zone against West Zone by removing Abhishek Nayar, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ambati Rayudu in the first innings, and Pujara, Rohit Motwani and Suryakumar Yadav in the second.

Shami proved to be an ideal replacement for Nechim in the final. He bagged eight wickets with sizzling pace. A clean action and ability to keep the batsmen guessing makes Shami a bowler worth watching. “I was happy to get such a pitch. It was good for both bowlers and batsmen. It was green but soft and it was important for me not to stray. We just kept telling ourselves that we should not bat one more time. It would have become tough. It also helped to have Dinda at the other end. He takes the pressure and really softens up the batsmen. We back each other well and he is such a huge motivator,” said Shami.

Dinda was modest. “I love bowling. If you want, I can bowl the whole day. Is it not what I am supposed to do? I play cricket because I love to bowl. The pitch (in the final) was a beauty. The ball was going and it was a test for everyone. You had to bowl in the right spots and the batsmen too had to be technically adept to make runs. It was a nice contest and we won because we were better prepared,” Dinda said, summing up his team's excellent performance.

Skipper Natraj Behera, with a significant century in the quarterfinal against West Zone, was a composed figure on the field. His assured approach was a vital factor as East Zone never allowed the game to drift away. “My job was to ensure that we did not become complacent. We always thought we had the combination to win,” he said.

Showing the way…East Zone's leading batsmen, Wriddhiman Saha and Anustup Majumdar (below).-

Behera and Majumdar buried the fancied West Zone with superb centuries and the team just took off from that point.

Team effort was best illustrated by East Zone: its batsmen played the dominant role in the quarterfinals while the bowlers took over in the semifinals. A total of 315 was within the grasp of North Zone, which had a decent line-up of batsmen in form. But Dinda left his own mark with a strike of eight for 123. “He is the best fast bowler in the country. Always striving and never expecting help from the pitch. His spirit is so infectious,” remarked W. V. Raman, the coach of the Bengal team.

“I knew my responsibility and wanted to justify the faith my team has in me. My aim was to keep the ball up and make the batsmen play. I am glad I could do it,” said Dinda at the end of the semifinal against North Zone at the Kotla.

His 22 wickets in this edition of the Duleep Trophy and 37 wickets in the Ranji Trophy confirmed Dinda as the most enterprising bowler of the domestic circuit.

South Zone came a cropper at home in Chennai against Central Zone, succumbing to the pace of Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and the off-spin of Jalaj Saxena. Centuries by Mohammad Kaif, Naman Ojha and Robin Bist raised Central Zone's hopes for the final.

The final was a let-down. East Zone clearly displayed greater motivation and Central Zone paid for its complacency and indiscipline. “We have to accept we didn't bat well,” said the Central Zone captain, Piyush Chawla.

On a sporting pitch, with bounce and pace, prepared by Taposh Chatterjee and Samandar Singh Chauhan, the Central Zone batsmen stood exposed.

East Zone made 370 and that was enough. Central Zone collapsed for 133 and 217 in an abysmal batting performance. of domestic cricket was starkly visible as lack of application proved to be the main reason for Central Zone's debacle.

For a final of the country's premier tournament it was an embarrassment indeed. Another sore point was the near-total absence of spectators at the venues. Taking the Duleep Trophy tournament to smaller centres could be a viable option unless the administrators want it to be reduced to a television sport.

* * * Making a pitch for sporting wickets

Pitch talk...curator Samandar Singh and the BCCI Secretary, Sanjay Jagdale (right), have a look at the strip at the Holkar Cricket Stadium in Indore.-

Samandar Singh Chouhan is an unassuming man. Dedicated to his work, he is among the finest curators in the country.

Known for preparing sporting pitches, the kind batsmen and bowlers equally love, Samandar has been the trusted man of Sanjay Jagdale, the BCCI secretary. The curator has a clear mandate to do his job without any interference from any quarters.

Jagdale, who has nurtured the Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association and transformed it into a professional unit, provides the curator with all the support. “I ensure he has the freedom to do his job. We interact a lot and pitch remains the top priority for every match,” said Jagdale.

Samandar believes in giving his best. “The fact that I have the support of the administration makes a lot of difference. It is not that we don't have good pitch makers in India. It is a specialised job and needs the backing of the association. I am lucky in this regard,” said Samandar.

The chief curator at the Holkar Stadium has an able assistant in Sharad Naik. The two form an ideal pair with their roles well defined. “We do our job by trying to prepare good pitches. That is the only way we can have good cricket,” stressed Samandar, who came in for praise for the playing surface he had produced for the Duleep Trophy final. The Central Zone has some fine curators in Taposh Chatterjee, in charge in Jaipur, and Ajay Sahasrabuddhe in Gwalior. They all credit their success to the free hand they get from their respective associations.

For Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag, the pitches in Indore and Gwalior hold special memories. Tendulkar's 200 not out against South Africa in an ODI came in Gwalior and Sehwag improved it 22 months later in Indore with a 219 against the West Indies. Samandar and Sahasrabuddhe cherish the acknowledgement they received from the two batsmen.