Yusuf’s blitzkrieg goes in vain

The victorious North Zone team with the Deodhar Trophy.-

In a blistering 39-ball 80, Yusuf Pathan bludgeoned the bowlers for nine sixes and three fours. But ultimately his team, West Zone, lost to North in the Deodhar Trophy final. A. Joesph Antony reports.

If an individual display assumed Colossal proportions in the Deodhar Trophy, it came from Yusuf Pathan. Friends and associates, such as the Baroda Cricket Association scorer/statistician siblings Tushar and Nandan Sawant, observed how easy-going and affable the senior Pathan was and still is. Such a free-flowing mien, with just a hint of a swagger, he carried over into the Motibaug Cricket Ground, not once, but twice.

In his hands, the bat became a cane that a tyrannical schoolmaster wields to terrorise his class of deviant children. In this case, however, the bowling had not really strayed from the straight and narrow and here was Yusuf Pathan assailing the attack not just to, but over all corners of the arena.

That purple patch from Yusuf in the nation’s premier limited-over domestic tournament was perhaps foreseen by his home crowd. Many of them turned up in large numbers, braving temperatures exceeding 35 degrees Celsius.

Invariably, there would be an air of anticipation when he went out to the middle. He’d be quickly ready to take the bowling head-on, regardless of whoever or whatever was hurled at him. His middle order entry meant his adversaries would be the spinners.

Yusuf duly obliged his loyal fans, treating them to some really explosive fireworks, which saw the ball soar skywards, watched helplessly by fielders, who could only retrieve it after it crashed into the surrounding woods.

First to face his onslaught were Central Zone’s pacemen, followed by the spinners, when the former made little headway. Half a dozen hits over the ropes by the burly Baroda batsman were supplemented by three from Ravindra Jadeja, two each from Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara, besides one each from West skipper Parthiv Patel and Dhawal Kulkarni.

Yusuf’s domination of the batting became even more pronounced after West’s top order failed to fire, but for Rahane’s 46 and Pujara’s 33, against North Zone in the final. From a respectable 80 for one, West was tottering at 108 for six, till Yusuf took centre-stage.

In a blistering 39-ball 80, he bludgeoned the bowlers for nine sixes and three fours. Had he lasted a little longer, he could well have surpassed Mohammed Azharuddin’s 62-ball century, smashed at this very ground against New Zealand.

“That fastest feat by the wristy Hyderabadi, recorded almost two decades ago, had stood in his name for quite a while,” said BCCI Scorer/Statistician, Nitin Patel, registrar of the nearby Sardar Vallabhai Patel Engineering College, for whom maintaining the numbers pertaining to cricket is a passion, despite not donning the white flannels even for his school side.

With no established batsman worth the name for company, Yusuf Pathan put on 115 for the seventh wicket with the diminutive Iqbal Abdulla, the former towering over six feet and the latter maybe a bit over five.

After trying every trick in the book, only the guile of Mukesh Sharma could separate this duo. The left-arm spinner, seeing Yusuf step out with increasing frequency, pitched one short and stumper Uday Kaul did the rest. In a one-sided quarter-final, South bowed out tamely to Central Zone, despite a valiant 67 from Abhinav Mukund and a captain’s knock of 79 by Ravichandran Ashwin.

In reply, thanks largely to South’s sloppy fielding, Central comfortably overhauled the rival’s 222 with seven wickets to spare, as Mohnish Mishra (71), Mohammed Kaif (72 not out) and Suresh Raina (49 not out) featured prominently in the chase.

North made short work of East in the first semi-final, thanks to a destructive 66 by skipper Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan’s unconquered 85. Paresh Patel’s 65 and Wriddhiman Saha’s 58 could not prevent the Easterners from sliding to an eight-wicket defeat. For consistency and resoluteness in batting, the laurels should go to Dhawan, who delivered on both the occasions that he opened, melding method with merit, which often laid the firm foundation for North’s eventual triumph.

The scores (final):

North Zone 267 for nine in 50 overs (Shikhar Dhawan 48, Uday Kaul 67) beat West 218 in 38 overs (Yusuf Pathan 80, Ajinkya Rahane 46, Cheteshwar Pujara 33, Mukesh Sharma five for 59, Rahul Dewan four for 18).

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An island of greenery

From Baroda’s all-enveloping dust, the Motibaug Cricket Ground is a veritable oasis,

Ensuring everything is conducive to cricket is Vishvajeet Singh Padhiar. A one lakh litre capacity tank fuels 11 sprinklers that spray 60,000 litres of water over 42 metres for 50 minutes daily. “Ground maintenance is not only elaborate but exhaustive too,” says Padhiar.

A Toro master reel mower crops the grass twice a week, scarifying’s done every quarter, coring and ploughing annually, as also the soil’s top dressing. The main square comprises 10 turf strips, clay content in which is high, giving the ball quite a bit of bounce and carry, aiding bowler and batsman alike besides being equal to spinner and speedster. It’s also the only patch of brown amidst the resplendent greenery.The practice area has 18 turf and five cement wickets. An army of groundsmen keeps the arena and its environs free of litter, that plagues many cricket centres. “The Maharaja is pretty particular that the facility is clean, apart from being soothing to the eye,” adds Padhiar.

Since the palace falls in a green zone, the construction of concrete structures, such as galleries, is prohibited. So tastefully designed tents provided shelter during the recent Deodhar Trophy limited overs tournament. The ground’s grandeur remained undiminished over the four days that it hosted the event, drawing fairly large crowds keen to catch some high-velocity action or get an autograph from one of the many celebrity cricketers, who graced the place.