The devil is in the mind as it doesn’t really matter whom you play, were North Zone skipper Aakash Chopra’s words on the eve of their Duleep Trophy semifinal clash against South Zone on Wednesday.
In his maiden season as skipper in the Duleep Trophy, Chopra promised to carry on the momentum and hoped he could defend the title having missed out on the Ranji crown.
South Zone, on the other hand, will miss skipper VVS Laxman and Tamil Nadu's S Badrinath will lead the squad with Dinesh Karthik as his assistant. Laxman, who twisted his ankle while training on the second day of their opening tie against Central, is ruled out and Kerala's left-hand batsman P Rohan Prem is expected to join the squad tonight.
South Zone have an edge considering their win over Central in the opening tie and the onus is on Chopra to defend the title. Dinesh Karthik slammed tons in both innings in the last game and Rahul Dravid also scored one. S Sreesanth, who is on a comeback trail, is looking to find his rhythm while Andhra leggie M Suresh picked up six wickets in Central's second innings.
However, statistics are of little relevance to Chopra and he said “what matters is performance on a given day.” The Delhi batsman refused to get cowed down by the star-studded opposition and said North have always been successful with low profile sides. “We didn't have the big names last year and it has always been a team effort. It doesn't really matter if you have stars playing a match. What is important is performance.”
Chopra, however, conceded that South have a slight edge in handling the Kookaburra ball as the latter have already played a match while this would be North's first in the tournament. “This is the first day we played with the Kookaburra ball and it is little different from the SG ball,” said Chopra. Delhi’s Chetanya Nanda will miss the tie with a fractured elbow and South’s Arjun Yadav is a doubtful starter as he is ill.
North Zone: Aakash Chopra (captain), Amit Mishra (vice captain), Shikhar Dhawan, Sangram Singh, Virat Kohli, Sunny Sohal, Rahul Dewan, Ankur Kakkar, Uday Kaul, Sarandeep Singh, MS Gony, VS Malik, Parwinder Awana, Rajat Bhatia, Samiullah Beigh
South Zone: Subramaniam Badrinath (captain), Dinesh Karthik (vice captain), Abhinav Mukund, Robin Uthappa, Rahul Dravid, Arjun Yadav, Ashwin R, Shadab Jakati, Balaji L, S Sreesanth, Vinay Kumar, Saurav Babdekar, Suresh M, Anoop Pai, Rohan Prem
East meet West in final countdown
Had the Sri Lankan tour not been hastily arranged, West Zone would have had seven of the 15 India players for their Duleep Trophy matches. Despite their absence, the Wasim Jaffer-led side has a mix of players who have taken the nation by storm with both bat and ball in the Ranji Trophy, and those who have the talent to make it to the next level.
Attempting to stop West are opponents East, led by Orissa opener Shiv Sundar Das, but on paper they look distinctively the weaker side. Nobody begins favourites, though, as Jaffer said on match eve: "We might be favourites or we might be underdogs. It all depends on how you play on the day. You have to perform."
But one thing is certain, the Cricket Club of India pitch, which has hosted three Ranji matches this season and produced outright results, will present another similar surface that will keep all departments interested.
While both the teams have not identified their XI yet, it is likely that they will go in with three seamers. While West will rely on the trio of local lad Dhawal Kulkarni, Gujarat's Siddarth Trivedi and Maharashtra left-armer Samad Fallah, East have the Bengal duo of Ashok Dinda and Ranadeb Bose complemented by Orissa's Basant Mohanty.
"West are a strong side and we have to really play to beat them. But we will back our strength, which is our seam attack," said Das.
While the batsmen will find it a challenge to negotiate the bounce that the pitch will offer, one thing that is distressing is the lack of talented young spinners. West have to go back to the 30-year-old offie Ramesh Powar and 29-year-old left-arm spinner Rajesh Pawar, who took only 20 wickets for Baroda.
"Powar got into the side because Mohnish Parmar has a suspect action. Pawar gets a look in because there is no other left-arm spinner. And we do not have a leg-spinner," lamented a West selector.
East rely on 36-year-old left-arm spinner Anand Katti, who plays for Assam but hails from Karnataka and is a Level II coach. Such is the state of affairs in India, which used to be the powerhouse of spin.
West Zone: Wasim Jaffer (captain), Parthiv Patel (vice-captain, wk), Ajinkya Rahane,
Cheteshwar Pujara, Kedar Jadhav, Ajay Shirkhande, Azhar Bilakhia, Bhavik Thakkar, Abhishek Nayar, Dhawal Kulkarni, Ramesh Powar, Siddarth Trivedi, Samad Fallah, Rajesh Pawar and Ajitesh Argal.
East Zone: S. S. Das (captain), R. R. Parida (vice-captain), Manoj Tiwary, Saurabh Tiwary, Niranjan Behera, Dibyendu Chakrabarty, Haladhar Das, Krishna Das, Jayantha Debnath, Ashok Dinda, Anand Katti, Tushar Saha, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ranadeb Bose and Basant Mohanty.
SA umpire on verge of history
Standing in a domestic tournament overseas is nothing new for South African umpire Marais Erasmus. But it will throw open an opportunity for Indian umpires to interact with their foreign counterpart and exchange ideas.
When he walks out with Bangalore’s Shahvir Tarapore on Thursday in West’s 100th Duleep Trophy fixture, against East, Erasmus will be the first overseas umpire to officiate in a domestic match in Independent India.
“It will be a good experience,” Erasmus said on Wednesday. “Even the Indian umpires will gain from me.”
Erasmus, who played 53 first-class games as a fast bowler for Boland, said that he had benefited from a similar exchange programme with New Zealand Cricket. “It’s better to get used to domestic matches overseas, before becoming an international umpire,” said the 44-year-old, who has stood in seven ODIs besides 37 first class games. The player-turned-umpire said that the best of cricketers need not become good umpires “just like great cricketers needn’t become good coaches.”