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North Zone juggernaut crushes Lankan hopes

Sri Lanka A were always going to chase the game after a batting collapse on the first day of the final, reports Atreyo Mukhopadhyay.

india Updated: Nov 15, 2006 00:06 IST
Atreyo Mukhopadhyay
Atreyo Mukhopadhyay

Sri Lanka A were always going to chase the game after a batting collapse on the first day of the Duleep Trophy final, but they probably had not settled for a grind that has so far lasted 189 overs in just over two days.

It should end on the fourth morning when North Zone are likely to declare their first innings closed after Mahesh Rawat completes a century.

The first foreign team to reach the final of what is meant to be India's premier domestic competition will practically have no chance of making a match of this after that because it will take the forces of nature to work an Eden Gardens miracle bigger than the very, very special Test against Australia in 2001.

Making great use of a bowler's nightmare of a pitch, the batsmen of North crafted and grafted their way to a mammoth 627 for a lead of 331 at stumps on Day 3.

The Sri Lankans will now need a lot more than VVS Laxman in the last two days to stop their rivals from laying their hands on the trophy for the 16th time. North had to finish a job well begun when play started on Tuesday with Aakash Chopra resuming his innings which had started late on Sunday.

The opener carried on in the same sedate manner despite losing Mithun Manhas in the second over of the day and looked set for a double century before being dismissed at the stroke of lunch.

It was up to the rest of North to show that there was more to this match than just Chopra's 574-minute, 400-ball marathon and though skipper Manhas failed, Yashpal Singh, Rawat and Joginder Sharma extended the misery of the Sri Lankans with a combination of no-nonsense and adventurous batting.

Yashpal is the odd man out in this North outfit because he represents Services which doesn't send too many players to this level, but he averages over 55 in first-class cricket. The stocky right-hander looked determined to make most of the conditions and played some pretty, wristy strokes off the pads before falling when in sight of a seventh century.

Yashpal's stay in the middle was frustrating for Sri Lanka A because he added 88 for the fourth wicket with Chopra and 79 for the fifth with Rawat. These partnerships closed all the roads for their rivals to even come close to a comeback. Things were threatening to get disinteresting at this stage before Joginder ensured that they did not.

Coming into this match with back-to-back centuries, the Haryana allrounder showed a clear intent to play strokes and played them well. His 90-ball 72 was not all about slogging and having bowled a fine spell in the first morning, Yoginder would go back from this match with reason to hope that he can add to his collection of three ODI caps.

Rawat too had been among the runs in the previous games and went about his job in a cool, businesslike manner. There was nothing extravagant about his innings, which followed the tried and tested principle of blocking the good balls and scoring when given the chance. A second hundred in his first year in this competition awaits him.

When ‘shirtfront’ killed match

The 2006-07 Duleep Trophy final will be remembered for a superlative batting performance from North Zone in terms of runs scored, but it should also send a reminder to those concerned that it is time the BCCI's pitches committee started evaluating what it is doing.

The surface on offer at Eden Gardens has drawn criticism from the benefactors and the victims, with those in the second group understandably using the harsher words. The basic tenet of what they were saying, however, was the same.

Mithun Manhas said he was surprised by the lack of bounce. "In my experience, I can't recall an Eden Gardens surface where the ball has kept so consistently low. There should be something more in the pitch for bowlers to ensure a better contest. It does get a bit one-sided in favour of batsmen on pitches like this.”

A senior member of the Sri Lanka A contingent, who didn't wish to be identified said, “We all try to prepare pitches that suit us when we play international cricket but at domestic level, we are trying to prepare pitches which give something to the bowlers. Our cricket, and by the same logic India cricket, won't improve if we don't do that,” he said.

“We thank the BCCI for inviting us and giving us a chance to compete here, but the basic purpose of such competitions are defeated if we play on these pitches where the ball doesn't go above the ankle after the first hour.”

First Published: Nov 14, 2006 23:55 IST