Central Zone pay for impatience
The zonal sides in the Duleep Trophy are short-term combinations of players from several states. The East Zone XI that won the final had four Bengal players, three Orissa and three Jharkhand players, and one Assam player. Central Zone had four Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh players each and three Rajasthan players. East Zone looked and played like a team. Central Zone did not.
A capitulation inside eight sessions in a five-day game was not the best advertisement for the top fixture in the country's first-class season. The lack of resistance from Central Zone was surprising for neither the pitch nor the East Zone attack was unplayable.
A day ago, East Zone's Wriddhiman Saha had hammered 170 on the same surface. Ashok Dinda and Shami Ahmed were sharp and relentless throughout. But medium-pacer Basant Mohanty was steady and accurate at best. There was nothing in the pitch for the spinners.
Not one of the Central Zone batsmen chose to fight it out. Not one tried to tire the opposition's best bowlers, as Mumbai's Kaustubh Pawar had done so effectively against Madhya Pradesh in the Ranji Trophy quarter-final on the same ground in January.
The Central Zone batsmen didn't even try to force the opposition into changing their strategy of bowling bouncers. Instead, they walked right into the trap. Batsman after batsman fell to the pull or the hook against well-directed short deliveries in the second innings. Ducking wasn't a popular choice.
Of the seven batsmen that fell to pace in the second innings, only one, Naman Ojha, got out to what was close to being an unplayable delivery. The rest just fell apart tamely.
Piyush Chawla, the Central Zone captain, did not sound like a leader when asked about his batsmen's poor show. "We were totally outplayed," he said. "At this level, what can I say to the players? They know what they have to do." He repeated the last two sentences twice, as if to drive home his helplessness.
It is perhaps awkward for someone like Chawla to walk up to a senior batsman like Mohammad Kaif, formerly his Uttar Pradesh captain for years, and speak to him about shot selection. Kaif was one of the batsmen who top-edged a catch off a bouncer, pulling the ball from outside off stump. He could have let it go but he wasn't alone in his indiscretion. None of his team-mates was prepared to wait. They looked like they had given up after conceding a 237-run first-innings lead.
Was the failure because of a lack of motivation? Chawla did not think so. "In fact, we discussed about going for quick runs before the start of play today, and making something around 500. It wasn't to be though."
Chawla spoke of missing fast bowler Pankaj Singh, who was ruled out of the game because of a stiff shoulder. His replacement, Rituraj Singh, was similar to medium-pacer Bhuvneshwar Kumar, and Chawla said there little variety in his attack. He also spoke of the lack of help for spin from the surface.
That said, Central Zone had no business getting rolled over for 133 and 217. Especially when East Zone, who lack the famed batsmen of Central Zone, had made 370.
National selector and former India batsman Mohinder Amarnath, perhaps the best player of short-pitched fast bowling the country has produced, was at the ground on day two. In a way, it was fitting he wasn't present today. He would have loathed seeing some of the country's best batting talent succumb meekly to the bouncer.
Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo