New schedule not so popular

The victorious East Zone team.-K. PICHUMANI

The Duleep Trophy, this year, was scheduled in an unfamiliar position — during the beginning of the season. This was part of the re-structured calendar that begins with the Challenger Trophy while the Irani Cup has been pushed back. By Arun Venugopal.

East Zone shan’t be denied its quota of self-satisfactory smirks for two important reasons. Firstly, the side established — in bold print — that its Duleep Trophy victory in the previous edition was no fluke by defending its title after beating Central Zone in the final for the second time in a row.

Secondly, East made mincemeat of stereotypes; for long, it had been regarded as a sideshow to ‘powerhouses’ such as North Zone and South Zone. The plaudits were deservedly earned but more on that later.

The Duleep Trophy, this year, was scheduled in an unfamiliar position — during the beginning of the season. This was part of the re-structured calendar that begins with the Challenger Trophy while the Irani Cup has been pushed back.

That the Duleep coincided with both the World T20 and the Champions League T20 meant some of the big-ticket cricketers were absent. The announcement of the North Zone squad ahead of the quarterfinal against West, actually, came with a ready-made list of replacements.

With skipper Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan Singh playing in the World T20 they would have been replaced by five others had India qualified for the semifinals.

Although India didn’t qualify for the last four, none of the aforementioned players were available for the Duleep competition. Barring Virat Kohli (who opted to rest) and Yuvraj Singh (who played in the semifinal against Central), the others had set off for South Africa for the Champions League. The joke was hard to miss. If the North Zone selectors had known, as they should have, that the Sehwags and Gambhirs weren’t going to be available, why pick them in the first place?

Yuvraj Singh... his double hundred for North against Central went in vain.-M. SUBHASH

Questions are already being raised about the merits of the new schedule. Veteran columnist Makarand Waingankar writes thus in The Hindu: “Indian first class players, being contracted with the IPL franchises, had to be in South Africa and were not available to play the Duleep Trophy. And several Indian players weren’t picked by their teams to play in the final XI in the Champions League. They hardly got to bat in the nets because they were not part of the team management’s plan. All of them would have walked into their respective zonal teams for the Duleep Trophy and would have been available to play for State ‘A’ teams. The technical committee has clearly made a mess of the calendar. And the most ridiculous part is that the working committee endorsed it!”

The other change in the tournament this season was the use of the SG Test ball in place of the Kookaburra, which was employed for more than five years now. The Duleep Trophy was the only domestic competition in India where the red Kookaburra was used. Apparently, the change was sought by captains of State teams, probably, with an eye on the number of International series to be played at home this season.

On the field, action was hardly on unexpected lines as North brushed past West in the quarterfinal by virtue of the first-innings lead. The slow Chennai surface saw North skipper Shikhar Dhawan scoring a century and a fifty while West’s off-spinner Kamlesh Makwana recorded a 10-wicket haul.

However, both the semifinal contests, boasted of some gripping play. The North-Central clash in Hyderabad seemed to be headed towards the former’s way. At 342 for nine, pursuing 452 for the first-innings lead, Central’s fate appeared to have been sealed. But Bhuvaneshwar Kumar (128) put on a 127-run stand with Rituraj Singh for the last wicket to clinch the first-innings lead in a freakish chase. The match also saw Yuvraj Singh, playing his first four-day match after his comeback, score a double century.

In the other semifinal in Visakhapatnam, Ashoke Dinda (seven for 26) of East destroyed South in a game that oscillated dramatically. The final in Chennai was at the mercy of the rain with each day of play suffering interruptions. East once again proved to be adept at defending a small total. After Ishank Jaggi’s unbeaten century gave some respectability to the East score, left-arm spinner Iresh Saxena and part-time leggie Anustup Majumdar knocked out Central.

According to the new rule, the match — since it was a knockout fixture — could have spilled over to the ‘sixth day’ if the first-innings lead hadn’t been achieved within five days. East skipper Natraj Behera spoke of how his team never stopped believing even as he claimed ignorance of Majumdar’s bowling prowess!

While the Central team posed for photographs with its runner-up title, the flimsy base of the trophy broke as it was passed around and attempts to mend it remained unsuccessful. Hopefully, that’s no metaphor of the Duleep Trophy’s waning significance.

THE SCORES

Final: East vs. Central (Oct. 21-25), Chennai.

East 232 in 101.5 overs (Ishank Jaggi 100 not out, Jalaj Saxena five for 62) & eight for no loss in five overs drew with Central 189 in 83.5 overs (Tanmay Srivastava 94, Iresh Saxena five for 58, Anustup Majumdar four for 29). Result: East won on first innings lead.

First semifinal: East vs. South (Oct. 14-17), Visakhapatnam.

East 267 in 106.3 overs (Saurabh Tiwary 145, Basant Mohanty 58, Abhimanyu Mithun four for 68) & 215 in 90.3 overs (Natraj Behera 60, Biplab Samantray 52) drew with South 244 in 82.4 overs (Robin Uthappa 40, Amit Verma 49, R. Vinay Kumar 61) & 85 for eight in 36 overs (Ashoke Dinda seven for 26). Result: East won on first innings lead.

Second semifinal: Central vs. North (Oct. 14-17), Hyderabad.

North 451 in 119.2 overs (Shikhar Dhawan 121, Yuvraj Singh 208, Praveen Kumar four for 92, Murali Kartik four for 120) & 187 for four decl. in 52 overs (Rahul Dewan 80) drew with Central 469 in 154.1 overs (Mohd. Kaif 63, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar 128) & 39 for one in 13 overs. Result: Central won on first innings lead.

Quarterfinal: North vs. West (Oct. 6-9), Chennai.

North 484 in 174.5 overs (Rahul Dewan 65, Shikhar Dhawan 101, Sunny Singh 46, Paras Dogra 77, Amit Mishra 48, Kamlesh Makwana five for 140) & 208 for seven decl. in 67 overs (Rahul Dewan 45, Shikhar Dhawan 50, Kamlesh Makwana five for 80) drew with West 164 in 70.4 overs (Parthiv Patel 51, Ishant Sharma four for 29) & 69 for two in 29 overs. Result: North won on first innings lead.