The charge of the young brigade

On a high… West Zone players celebrate with the Deodhar Trophy which they won for the 12th time.-RITU RAJ KONWAR

Baba Aparajith (South Zone), Vijay Zol (West Zone) and Unmukt Chand (North Zone) stood head and shoulders above the rest with their sterling performances. By S. Sabanayakan.

The remarkable aspect of the Deodhar Trophy inter-zonal limited-overs cricket tournament this season was the brilliance of three junior World Cup stars. There were quite a few juniors present in different zonal line-ups, but Baba Aparajith (South Zone), Vijay Zol (West Zone) and Unmukt Chand (North Zone) stood head and shoulders above the rest with their sterling performances.

That West Zone won the Deodhar Trophy for the 12th time, and the second year in succession, speaks volumes of the team’s resilience despite missing four of its first-choice players due to health reasons.

The response to the tournament, which had a fair number of India stars, was very good considering that the Nehru Stadium in Guwahati is an ODI venue.

Instituted in 1973-74 in honour of Prof. Deodhar (former captain of Maharashtra who had played in the 1920s and 30s) essentially to give the inexperienced Indian players the much-needed limited overs practice, the Deodhar Trophy was played in both knockout and league formats with the former system in place for the past four seasons.

The tournament is an ideal platform for the aspiring players to perform and be noticed by the National selectors. Messrs. Sandip Patil and his colleagues, Roger Binny and Rajinder Singh Hans, ought to have been mightily pleased with the stupendous showing of the young brigade.

Aparajith, one of the main players of the junior India team that won the World Cup in Australia last year, has made great strides. In the World Cup, he guided India to victory against Pakistan in the quarterfinals and won the Man of the Match award. He then won another Man of the Match award in India’s triumph against New Zealand in the semi-finals.

Aparajith, who represented Tamil Nadu in the age-group tournaments along with his twin brother B. Indrajith, quickly cemented his place in the Ranji Trophy team and never looked back thereafter. His game is based on good technique and his style of play is solid rather than flamboyant.

The 18-year-old all-rounder’s 121 — his highest score in List A — paved the way for South Zone’s 11-run victory against East Zone. Pleased with the young man’s performance and his team’s victory, the South Zone captain, Dinesh Karthik, termed the century as “brilliant”.

Aparajith said he played to a plan and never allowed the pressure to get to him, be it playing before the three selectors or facing the rival bowlers, including India ODI medium-pacer Mohammad Shami.

His under-19 World Cup team-mate Vijay Zol of Maharashtra too displayed his talent with a terrific innings of 75 against South Zone in the semi-finals. It was a wonderful exhibition of stroke-play by the opener. The five-wicket victory that West Zone achieved was in no small measure due to the diminutive 18-year-old’s innings. Despite the presence of India bowlers such as Abhimanyu Mithun and R. Vinay Kumar, Zol was confidence personified and produced an innings of high calibre.

Zol’s play was marked by a rare aggression that is seldom seen among the youth of his age group. His level of maturity is high thanks to his early exposure to cricket with the seniors.

North Zone’s Unmukt Chand is not only a natural opener but also a natural leader. Having captained India to victory in the junior World Cup, the 19-year-old lad from Delhi has been a regular for his State and zone in different tournaments.

Unmukt follows a line of proven performers from Delhi such as Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli. He is endowed with the kind of talent and maturity rarely seen among his peers. He made full use of the two matches he got to play for North Zone.

Watching India player Yuvraj Singh hammer an unbeaten 77 from the non-striker’s end, Unmukt, who scored an unbeaten 56, should have learnt many valuable lessons. He and Yuvraj forged a 129-run partnership for the third wicket that took the match away from Central Zone. North Zone won the match by eight wickets to earn a place in the final against West Zone.

Unmukt was in the limelight again when he scored 88 off 123 balls with seven boundaries and three sixes in the final. The youngster proved his worth by adapting to the situation. With his seniors falling like nine pins, Unmukt discarded his aggressive intent and played patiently up to a time when it was right for him to accelerate.

A player with good technique and temperament, Unmukt is the one to watch out for. The youngster is clearly focused and has set his sights very high.

At 27, many may feel that Ambati Rayudu is not exactly India material, especially when so many youngsters are jostling for a place in the national team. However, the batsman from Guntur (Andhra Pradesh), who is playing for Baroda, has been proving his worth repeatedly in the shorter formats of the game.

His unbeaten 78 for West Zone in the final against North Zone was an innings of authority and class. The knock helped fashion West Zone’s five-wicket victory and Rayudu was named the Man of the Match.

THE HITS AND MISSES

North Zone’s Yuvraj Singh looked a class apart. In emerging the joint top-scorer of the Deodhar Trophy this season, the Punjab left-hander produced two top-class half centuries. He amassed 144 runs in two innings with an unbeaten 77 (against Central Zone in the semi-finals) as his highest score.

Yuvraj’s 67 against West Zone in the final was also a high-octane innings though it was overshadowed by the collective effort of the champion team. It was indeed a welcome return to form for Yuvraj. It was not so however in the case of North Zone skipper Gautam Gambhir. Out of the Test squad following a string of poor scores, Gambhir needed a big knock in the inter-zonal tournament to regain his confidence and remind everyone of his ability. It looked as if Gambhir was either least interested to play in the tournament or was woefully out of form.

Judging Suresh Raina, another India player, from just one innings will not be doing him justice. Batting on a pitch that did not help stroke-play initially could be the real reason for his early departure. His ploy of taking the aerial route did not succeed either. Otherwise, he led Central Zone with aplomb and fielded with gusto.

Yusuf Pathan of West Zone was a disappointment. The Baroda all-rounder looked unfit. Though he scored a 53-ball 68 (eight boundaries and two sixes) against South Zone, he was done in by a short ball in the final against North Zone. His fielding was absolutely in a shambles.

Among the bowlers, Vinay Kumar (South Zone) and Munaf Patel (North Zone) bowled well within their ability.

There was also an interesting contest between wicketkeepers. While Wriddhiman Saha, leading East Zone, scored a fine 77, Parthiv Patel, the captain of West Zone, did well both as wicketkeeper and batsman.

South Zone skipper Dinesh Karthik preferred to leave the glove work to C. M. Gautham. He did well by scoring 33 and 45 in the two innings apart from captaining the side with a touch of assurance.