East Zone v North Zone, Duleep Trophy final, Mohali, Day 1 March 4, 2004

Pitching it right, and some old familiar faces

Considering the ever-changing nature of the pitches at Mohali this season, the wicket was the centre of attention on the first morning of the final

Considering the ever-changing nature of the pitches at Mohali this season, the wicket was the centre of attention on the first morning of the final. The man being pestered the most was Daljit Singh, the groundsman. He insisted that it would turn out to be a good batting strip, with only the first session posing a few problems: "You need a lot of discipline to get through the initial few overs. Once you get past that, there are runs to be scored." He spoke about the Ranji Trophy match between Punjab and Andhra earlier this season, where Andhra were gunned down for a paltry 30 on the first morning. "The conditions were overcast, but the batsmen played a few irresponsible shots. In fact four of them were bowled." He compared it to an earlier match, when Punjab played Delhi: "Delhi were struggling at 37 for 4, before Mithun [Manhas] played a beautiful innings. He played shots all round the wicket." And there was a smile on Daljit's face when Aakash Chopra and Gautam Gambhir negotiated the first half-hour carefully - he reiterated his point about "applying oneself". Of course, the Test between India and New Zealand here turned out to be a dull affair, with the surface being completely lifeless. "Please don't talk about the Test match," he said, and signed off with a smile.

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There were more interesting developments before the match began. Yuvraj Singh, who wasn't part of the 15 that North Zone announced yesterday, was parachuted into the playing XI. Yuvraj had missed North Zone's previous game, citing a shoulder injury, and the local media had criticised him for attending an advertisement campaign during that period. Pankaj Dharmani was the one to lose out today, and Yuvraj entertained the sparse crowd with some flourishing strokes on his way to a splendid century. East Zone also threw up a surprise. MS Dhoni was preferred to Deep Dasgupta as wicketkeeper. It's strange that the man the national selectors thought was the second-choice keeper for the Test team, and who was fit for practice yesterday, couldn't find a place in his zonal team.

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The Under-19 World Cup has been the flavour of the month, and there was an interesting moment in the first session that added to this. Laxmi Ratan Shukla began his first spell, Amit Bhandari was doing some limbering-up exercises near the boundary, and Yuvraj Singh indulged in a spot of shadow practice as he awaited his turn to bat. It just needed one glance around the ground to capture all three at the same time - all names that one first heard of during previous Under-19 World Cups. Today, their careers stand at different points. Shukla, touted as the next Test allrounder, faded away after a few international appearances. Bhandari has been on the fringes for a few years, and is now just one step away from clinching a permanent place. And then there's Yuvraj ... swaggering, bludgeoning and thrilling one and all with some scintillating strokeplay. One wonders what fate awaits the Shikhar Dhawans and Abhishek Sharmas.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is on the staff of Wisden Cricinfo in India.

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