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North meet East in the Northeast

For both the teams the only passage that matters is the one to the final, writes Varun Gupta.

india Updated: Nov 03, 2006 21:13 IST

Guwahati, as the locals are likely to remind you unceasingly, is the gateway to Northeast India.

However, for the East and North Zone, who lock horns at the Nehru Stadium here from Saturday, the only passage that matters is the one that leads to the Duleep Trophy final.

Fully aware that the failure to take at least the first-innings lead here would lead to an early exit from the tournament, the teams know that the match is a virtual semifinal.

In the Steel City (Jamshedpur), if North had shown nerves of the same and some gumption against Central Zone, they would not have found themselves in their current predicament.

After bundling Central below the follow-on mark, North, bewilderingly decided to bat again and, to add to the surprise, showed no alacrity on the final day and finished with just two points from that game, when all four could have been theirs.

East too had taken the first-innings lead over Central in their match at Gwalior and also have just two points. However, what can set the cat among the pigeons here is the pitch, no bed of roses for the batsmen, as was the case in Jamshedpur.

The wicket appears terribly dry and a slow turner, one that is likely to crumble in a couple of days. East Zone skipper Sourav Ganguly, who had a long, hard look at the surface, admitted as much and predicted that the match would definitely produce a result.

"I think this is a result-oriented wicket," Ganguly told HT. "The first innings lead will not be as important as the wicket is likely to break, and looks to be a slow turner. We are contemplating playing an extra spinner."

This means that left-am spinner Shiv Sagar Singh, who was drafted into the squad in place of Ranadeb Bose, who missed out owing to a stiff neck, is likely to feature in the playing XI. It could also render off-spinner Sourashish Lahiri's role in the match pivotal as he is capable of giving the ball a real tweak.

North, on the other hand, might induct left-arm spinner Vishal Bhatia in place of a medium-pacer, and Punjab's sturdy pacer Gagandeep Singh looks likely to be the one to sit out. Batsman Manvinder Bisla and all-rounder Sachin Rana are also in the reckoning for a spot.

Both sides boast of powerful batting line-ups that can run amok on their day. North have the marauding Gautam Gambhir and Yahspal Singh in their ranks while the Delhi duo of Aakash Chopra and Mitthun Manhas would be looking to satiate their hunger this time around - they could not do much in their previous outing.

East too have their share of a few good men in Rohan Gavaskar, Ganguly, SS Das and LR Shukla.

However, what can give North the edge is their pace bowling, which on paper certainly looks a notch above their opponents. Ashish Nehra showed in the last game that if fit and eager, and when bowling an immaculate line and length, he can trouble the most resilient batsmen. VRV Singh too will be desperate to prove a point or two. Both the camps are awash with hope. An intriguing spectacle awaits.

First Published: Nov 03, 2006 21:13 IST