Manhas does the star turn

RAJEEV BHATT

Mithun Manhas stepped in for Dinesh Mongia, who woke up with a stiff neck, and the Delhi batsman grabbed the chance to lead by example. In a tournament dominated by batsmen, Manhas struck brilliant form to guide his team to championship triumph.

Coloured clothing and packed audience were two aspects that enlivened the Deodhar Trophy. Spectators thronged the venues at small centres, much to the delight of the players. Little-known cricketers being mobbed for autographs, was a pleasant experience for some, not to forget the organising officials, who were equally delighted.

Udaipur played a great host, with Indore and Jaipur not far behind. If only Indore had provided a better pitch the matches would have been more interesting. The pitch at Udaipur was a beauty. So was the one at Jaipur. Given a choice, all batsmen would love to return to bat on the Udaipur track at MB College while the bowlers savoured the green top at the Sawai Man Singh Stadium in Jaipur.

These two venues produced some well-contested matches in the Deodhar Trophy that went to North Zone, thanks to skipper Mithun Manhas' back-to-back centuries against South Zone and East Zone.

Manhas stepped in for Dinesh Mongia, who woke up with a stiff neck, and the Delhi batsman grabbed the chance to lead by example. In a tournament dominated by batsmen, Manhas struck brilliant form to guide his team to championship triumph.

Till Manhas and his partner in prosperity Reetinder Singh Sodhi (256 runs including his championship's maiden century (an unbeaten 108) against East) turned it around for North, West Zone had looked good to take the title. West had won its first three matches to gain 12 points and awaited South in the final league encounter. Though West was considered the favourite, South and North, too, had their chances of winning the title.

On the eve of the final set of matches, the equation looked like this: West had to win against South to top the league table. North had to beat East and hope that South upstaged West. For South to take the title, it needed to beat West and hope that East stopped North.

Eventually, North, South and West finished with three victories each. North's two bonus points in the last two matches helped it retain the title and enhance its record of triumphs to 11.

NORTH ZONE TEAM (above) certainly owes its success to Mithun Manhas.-SANDEEP SAXENA

North's victory over East in a match interrupted by rain and bad light was arrived at by the VJD method. Once it became clear that the match could not be resumed, the seasoned statistician and scorer O. P. Sharma worked out North's margin of victory as 52 runs plus a bonus point, as per the method adopted this season by the Board for domestic games.

For pure entertainment, the West-South match at Udaipur stood out for the close finish. Needing five runs to win, West lost off the last ball when Ajit Agarkar failed to clear the field. The last-ball six that wicketkeeper-batsman Dishant Yagnik dealt to Sourav Ganguly at Jaipur was a stunning end to an otherwise inconsequential match.

Overall, Ganguly drew large crowds everywhere but did not earn points when it came to being a `team man.' He showed no interest in staying back with the team or practice at Jaipur.

He reached on the night before the match against Central and left for the airport after the match. He did the same ahead of the match against North, reaching late on the previous night. No wonder, he scored 17 against Central and a first-ball duck against North.

But it was Ganguly's last over against Central that disappointed his fans. When he was brought in to bowl the 45th, the last over, Ganguly was expected to use all his experience and deny the last-wicket pair of Dishant Yagnik and Harvinder Singh the 13 runs needed for a win. But Ganguly conceded 3, 1, 1, 1, 2 and 6, and with it, East finished with four straight losses and a tally of -1. Tamil Nadu opener S. Vidyut's blazing 158 against Central was one of the high points of this edition. He set a record for the highest individual score in the championship by going past J. Arun Kumar's 148 against East at Ahmedabad in January 2000.

Among the bowlers, East's Ranadeb Bose topped with eight wickets. North's wicketkeeper Pankaj Dharmani took six catches and effected a stumping to emerge with most the number of dismissals.

For the untiring cricket officials of Udaipur and Jaipur, this edition of the Deodhar Trophy meant gaining recognition in the organisation of domestic matches.

Udaipur, in particular, had suffered the wrath of the Board for having failed to organise the 1987 World Cup training camp, which was shifted three days after commencement on account of poor cricket facilities.

"It was a big blow for us," recalled Mahender Sharma, the hard working secretary of the Udaipur Cricket Association. One of Rajasthan's finest batsmen, Kuldip Mathur, offered his experience to enable his district host the Deodhar Trophy in an impeccable manner and the teams returned home satisfied with the facilities offered on and off the field.

As if to acknowledge their good work, there was support from the players too as they produced some exciting cricket and the sponsors — Hindustan Zinc and Secure Meters — supported the cause handsomely. "It was a team effort.

We hope to host a one-day international in the future," said young coach Manoj Choudhary.

For Udaipur, combining cricket with tourism can be a profitable venture in the future.

Standings: 1. North (14 points), 2. South and West (12 each), 4. Central (3) and 5. East (-1).

SANDEEP SAXENA

Rohit Sharma: A batsman for the future. He had plenty of time to play his shots and the ease with which he placed the strokes spoke of the youngster's sound grooming. Rated high by India junior coach Venkatesh Prasad, his century against North was easily the knock of the tournament. Balwinder Sandhu felt the lad was best equipped to adapt to the modern demands of the game. "He plays every shot and his bat swing is the best part of his game." Rohit's timing took the breath out of the opposition as the ball often reached the boundary even before the seamers could complete their follow through. Indeed, one of the better organised batsmen among the younger crop.

RAJEEV BHATT

Dishant Yagnik: In less than 24 hours of hitting a memorable last-ball six off Sourav Ganguly, Rajasthan's 22-year-old wicketkeeper Dishant Yagnik signed nearly 300 autographs and received around 200 congratulatory calls on his mobile phone. Included in the Central team after first-choice wicketkeeper Naman Ojha was injured, the left-handed Yagnik impressed for a debutant by effecting four dismisals before joining hands with last-man Harvinder Singh to score 14 runs off Ganguly's last over. "From the morning I was very excited on the prospects of meeting Ganguly. Playing in the same match as Ganguly was itself a dream come true for me. After hitting the winning runs, I picked up a stump and walked towards Ganguly. He said `well played' as he shook my hand. That was when I felt really very sad for him," confessed this ardent fan of the former India captain.

Mithun Manhas: "I've always loved challenges. And I'm so glad that I could lead by example and help the team win," were the words from North Zone's standin skipper Mithun Manhas after it became clear that North had retained the title. The 26-year-old had hit centuries against South and East to giude North's stunning course to victory. He ended up scoring 284 runs in four innings and was out just twice. His elegant style and choice of strokes stood out at Udaipur as well as in Jaipur. Following Delhi's dismal show this season, Manhas at least had the satisfaction of signing off the season on a high note. After all, Manhas came good when it really mattered.

RAJEEV BHATT

S. Vidyut: This gentle lefthander came up with the highestever individual score in the championship that began in 1973-74. The South Zone opener tore into Central's attack at Jaipur and scored 158 before being stumped in the 42nd over. He knew that he missed a great opportunity to score a double century in one-day cricket. This lanky Tamil Nadu lad displayed an array of strokes and dominated the match-winning stand with skipper and fellowcenturion Y. Venugopala Rao. Vidyut holds the rare distinction of scoring a century in Ranji Trophy after coming in at number 11. Since then, he has made his way up the batting order and has scored centuries as an opener as well.

Vijay Lokapally & Rakesh Rao