Thrilling contest on the cards
After having embarrassed the West Zone batsmen, who were coming off a prolific run in the Ranji one-dayers, in the Deodhar Trophy opener, the Central Zone attack will come up against their toughest test of the tournament tomorrow at the Chinnaswamy Stadium when they take on an even stronger North Zone batting line-up.
If a domestic team can leave out Mithun Manhas, it has to be spoilt for choices, and when you have Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Shikhar Dhawan, Aakash Chopra, and Virat Kohli as your top five you really are spoilt. If Sehwag, Gambhir and Kohli make it on the back of being India and India Under-19 players, Dhawan and Chopra have slayed domestic attacks in the Ranji one-dayers. Chopra has scored three unbeaten centuries in scoring 332 runs in four innings, and Dhawan two centuries in scoring 342 from five innings. Even more impressive was the fact that both scored at more than a run a ball. To add to that, North have the best allrounder of the season in Rajat Bhatia, who would like to carry the form from the longer version into the one-dayers.
This batting line-up, though, will be up against perhaps their toughest test of the domestic season. Praveen Kumar and RP Singh sound more like an India opening combination, and the pressure they create makes the job easier for the bowlers to follow. It showed in the way Sandeep Singh bowled in the previous game, bowling seven tight overs for 21 runs and getting Rohit Sharma's wicket. And if things do go wrong, they have two quality spinners to fall back upon: Piyush Chawla and Murali Kartik.
That is where the positives ends for Central Zone. They look far too much like an Uttar Pradesh team, and the batting line-up suggests an over-reliance on Mohammad Kaif and Suresh Raina for their runs. They lost four wickets chasing 99 against West; Raina scored 18 and Kaif 8. While chasing a bigger target or while setting one, the two might not be allowed the luxury of failure. To add to their troubles, Tanmay Srivastava has been ruled out of the tournament with a hand injury he picked up at the U-19 World Cup.
Their coach Abhay Sharma, though, wasn't very worried by the unconvincing batting display in the first match, choosing to look at it as complacency that accompanies a low target. The consolation for them is that they are not up against the best attack North Zone could have had: Ishant Sharma, Harbhajan Singh, and VRV Singh won't be playing as they are yet to prove their fitness. Ishant and VRV took the fitness tests today at the National Cricket Academy, but the results are not yet known.
VRV was North's striking force in their Duleep Trophy success earlier this year, with back-to-back ten-wicket match hauls. In his absence, Pradeep Sangwan will be an essential reinforcement. He will be supported by the steady medium-pace of Vikramjeet Malik and the legspin of Amit Mishra. If the wicket is like it was in the previous match here, when the seamers got plenty of assistance, North will want to go with a third fast bowler in Punjab's Manpreet Gony.
A seaming pitch could make this game an enticing contest between the Central bowlers and the North batsmen. Those who thought domestic cricket was boring could be in for a shock.
Central Zone: Mohammad Kaif (capt.), Praveen Kumar, Suresh Raina, RP Singh, Piyush Chawla, Murali Kartik, Praveen Gupta, Naman Ojha, Sandeep Singh, Faiz Fazal, Rajesh Kanojia, Himalaya Sagar, Rohit Sharma, Deepak Yadav
North Zone: Virender Sehwag (capt.), Gautam Gambhir, Uday Kaul, Aakash Chopra, Shikhar Dhawan, Vikramjit Malik, Yashpal Singh, Rajat Bhatia, Paras Dogra, Pradeep Sangwan, Amit Mishra, Manpreet Gony, Vishal Bhatia
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo