All fire and brimstone

Champions North Zone with the Duleep Trophy.-Pics: VIVEK BENDRE

V. R. V. Singh’s five-wicket haul in each innings underlined his status as a match-winner. Nandakumar Marar reports.

Aggression comes in many shades on a cricket field. Yusuf Pathan opted for an intimidatory approach to run-making and ended up on the losing side in the Duleep Trophy 2008. North Zone played the baiting game, using leg-spinner Amit Mishra to prey on the all-rounder’s impatience and finished on the winning side. V. R. V. Singh blew away West Zone’s resistance, his five-wicket haul in each innings confirming his status as a match-winner in first-class cricket.

Mithun Manhas shed light on North’s approach to the game. “I feel the North Zone cricketers play more aggressively than players from other zones. That is the reason we win more often,” he said of the tame ending to the much-awaited title clash. West had a group of talented, experienced players under Parthiv Patel’s leadership, but somehow lacked the resilience. When the heat was on at the Wankhede Stadium, West lost by six wickets on the penultimate day of the five-day match.

V. R. V. Singh knocked the stuffing out of West Zone.-

Cricketing talent in North Zone runs deep. Despite the absence of Virender Sehwag, Ishant Sharma, Gautam Gambhir, Pradeep Sangwan, Harbhajan Singh and Yuvraj Singh, North did not miss a step, did not overlook a trick while stepping up the pressure on West with every session. “I view the absence of some of our key players as an opportunity for the others,” said Manhas, who chose to field first, giving his bowlers V. R. V. Singh and Amit Mishra the first strike against West’s batting heavyweights.

Ajinkya Rahane was the only bright spark in West’s 272, chancing his arm for a 91. Putting behind the no-show in Australia after arriving there as Zaheer Khan’s replacement, V. R. V. Singh worked up a lively pace, hit the deck and made the ball fly past the batsmen’s face.

“The hard work in Australia is paying off. Venkatesh Prasad (Team India’s bowling coach) pays a lot of attention to detail about each bowler,” said the hefty pace bowler.

Leg-spinner Mishra snared Yusuf Pathan in both innings just when the West Zone hit man was getting into the mood of unleashing the full force of his strokeplay. Brute power coupled with amazing timing enabled the sturdy batsman to get away with audacious shots across the line. Manhas played the waiting game and Yusuf fell into the trap set by the North Zone skipper in both innings.

Yusuf’s tendency to get carried away easily hurt West in the second innings as he top-edged a sweep after making 61 off 51 balls. The T20 mood in a five-day game was out of place, especially when West had capable batsmen in Rakesh Solanki and Rakesh Dhruv in the middle-order to play the supporting roles. The Baroda all-rounder had mauled Central Zone in Rajkot earlier, scoring a 66-ball 107, lashing five sixes and 13 fours.

Manhas was fortunate to have in Yashpal Singh, Rajat Bhatia and Shikhar Dhawan batsmen ready to adapt to the situation.

“Shikhar has come of age,” said the North skipper, referring to the manner in which the opener gave up his attacking style for compact play during the victory chase. Shikhar was the top-scorer in the final with an unbeaten 94.

Manhas and Aakash Chopra had earlier hit unbeaten double centuries (205 not out each) to demoralise East Zone. The support that V. R. V. Singh received from paceman Vikramjit Malik in earlier matches (versus South Zone and East Zone) and the role played by Ashok Thakur at critical junctures in the final indicated that North Zone was a fighting unit enjoying each other’s success.

THE SCORES

Duleep Trophy final, North Zone v West Zone, Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai, February 19-23, 2008.

Result: North Zone won by six wickets.

West Zone 274 (S. O. Kukreja 28, R. K. Solanki 38, Yusuf Pathan 27; V. R. V. Singh 5-91, A. Mishra 3-57) and 277 (A. M. Rahane 43, Yusuf Pathan 61, R. K. Solanki 33, R. V. Dhurv 41; V. R. V. Singh 5-86.) lost to North Zone 340 (A. Chopra 35, S. Dhawan 30, M. Manhas 26, Yashpal Singh 59, R. Bhatia 84, A. K. Thakur 33 n.o., V. R. V. Singh 33, S. K. Trivedi 6-67, R. V. Dhurv 3-87) and 166 for four wkts (S. Dhawan 94 n.o, R. Bhatia 33 n.o.)

* * * Why this parity?

North Zone fought and won the title even though its coach Vijay Dahiya was not present during the final.

“Vijay Dahiya could not come as he is busy with the Delhi one-day squad. Feroz Ghyas, the manager, doubled up as the coach,” revealed North Zone’s skipper Mithun Manhas.

A hands-on captain assisted by a manager who knew his role very well enabled the champion team to overcome its problems.

So, do coaches in other zonal teams have a role to play? Praveen Amre (West Zone), Gyanendra Pandey (Central Zone), Bharat Arun (East Zone) and Kanwaljit Singh (South Zone) were in charge of the Ranji Trophy teams before being chosen to coach the squads in the inter-zonal competition. They were answerable for on-field performance of the teams.

It is learnt that as per the BCCI norms of payments for the Duleep Trophy, coaches like Dahiya are paid Rs. 20,000 as allowance for every match. The team physio, trainer and manager are also paid the same amount.

With the payment for both the coach and the support staff being equal, does the BCCI consider the responsibility of the coach to be on a par with his support staff for the Duleep Trophy?

At the national level, the responsibilities of the coach and his support staff are different and so are the payments.