A loss can sometimes be a blessing in disguise. Seamer Abu Nechim Ahamed turned out to be one such for East Zone. His exit on the eve of the Duleep Trophy final due to injury brought in Mohammad Shami, a bowler with zip and an uncomplicated action.
And as happens to men hungry for top-level cricket - the last of his five first-class games was two months back - he found the timber, induced edges and instilled fear on a track where the ball darted around and kept the 'keeper and the slip fielders busy on Sunday. Along with Bengal paceman Ashok Dinda, the two scalped four each as East skittled out Central for 133 on Day One.
East, less known for pacers, suddenly have an attack that has everything. In the semifinal, Dinda’s unrelenting pace was aided by Basant Mohanty’s nagging accuracy as North were restricted to 319; in the final they’ve got another who can allow Dinda some rest.
Central, after two early wickets and a lot of jitters, had settled down by lunch. A shaky Mohammad Kaif had been dismissed leg before shouldering arms to Dinda and Rajasthan's Ranji hero Vineet Saxena played on a Shami delivery that cut in. Saxena’s fellow opener Naman Ojha, who retired hurt on two after a Dinda delivery struck him on the box, steered the ship on his return along with Mohnish Mishra.
Mohanty and Shami, however, threw the spanner in the works. Mishra was caught behind off Mohanty. Shami then bowled a ripper that straightened after pitching and Ojha prodded cluelessly to be caught behind. Mohanty broke through the defences of Parvinder Singh with an in-cutter. The in-form Robin Bist misread the pace and drove one straight to short midwicket. Dinda then returned to mop up the tail. “The wicket helped seam bowling and I could cut the ball at will,” said Shami, who had three chances dropped off his bowling.
It seemed counter-attack was the option. Naman Ojha (44) tried it early, getting fours through covers and gully. Piyush Chawla (26) later went all out, hitting Shami straight into the stands, but it was all short-lived.
East too lost three early wickets but managed to see off the tense moments with Anustup Majumdar settling down.