There could not have been a better ending to the domestic season than two of the stronger teams facing off in the five-day Duleep Trophy final starting on Thursday.
South Zone carry the momentum of two outstanding performances against Central and North, with West, who have played only one match, could find themselves in the backseat. There is little to separate the two, though.
Despite the absence of VVS Laxman, who still hasn’t recovered from the ankle injury picked up during the quarterfinal, S Badrinath’s men have been in terrific form with the bat. They have shown in the previous two matches that they can bat deep.
West, on the other hand, did not have produce a great batting display in the semifinal against East. Despite notching up more than 1000 runs in the Ranji Trophy this season, both Wasim Jaffer and Ajinkya Rahane failed and it was numbers 6, 7 and 8 — Abhishek Nayar, Kedar Jadhav and Rajesh Pawar — who bailed them out to eight-wicket win.
The West batsmen will have to fire on all cylinders against a five-man South attack, including three spinners, if they are to make a match out of it.
Both skippers Jaffer and Badrinath said they go into the game with five bowlers. While South have all areas covered, West have only two spinners. Off-spinner R Powar, will have to work in tandem with his once Mumbai partner, R Pawar. With S Trivedi and D Kulkarni settling into a nice rhythm in the second innings last week, the third seamer’s role should go to A Nayar.
South, who were hit by L Balaji’s departure to Sri Lanka, will have S. Sreesanth back for this game. With four of the five selectors watching this game, the many Test hopefuls will be anxious to put on a good show.
There will many individual battles too. M Vijay, back after missing the first two games and P Patel will up against D Karthik for the second ‘keeper’s slot, while Kulkarni, Trivedi and Sreesanth will be looking to make into the team as a seamer.