Sehwag, Gambhir add heft to Duleep title clash
Duleep Trophy, the forgotten tournament that is often played in the background of the Indian domestic season, has got a shot in the arm with Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir joining the North Zone team for the final to be played in Kochi from Thursday onwards. Just the turnaround the tournament needed a week after its semi-final was decided by the toss of a coin. The Delhi batsmen join Harbhajan Singh, Pragyan Ojha and South Zone captain Abhinav Mukund as Test players in the final of the zonal competition.
Gambhir's last Duleep Trophy match came in 2006-07. Sehwag last played in the inter-zonal first-class competition in 2004-05, opening the innings with Gambhir. This time, though, Sehwag is likely to bat in the middle order, a decision he made earlier in the season as he tries to make his way back into the Indian team.
Sehwag's returns since moving down the order haven't been encouraging. He began with a quick 59 in a Challenger Trophy match, but it has been followed by scores of 8 and 5 in one-dayers, and 7 and 38 in the first-class games against West Indies A. Gambhir has had a better time in his fight to stage a comeback. In India A's win in Hubli, he scored only his third first-class century in three years, but the good news from his point of view is that all three have come in this year. Moreover, the incumbent India Test opener, M Vijay, is not playing the final. South Zone, though, will be bolstered by Dinesh Karthik and Stuart Binny, who had been away on Champions League T20 duty.
In the spin department, though, both the discarded veteran and the incumbent will be present. Both are IPL team-mates. Harbhajan, who won the all-important toss to take his team into the final, will captain North Zone; Pragyan Ojha will lead the South Zone spin attack.
The players and subplots are all there, but the Kochi weather remains the big factor after persistent rain and wet outfield allowed only 208 overs in the semi-final. Scattered thunderstorms are predicted between October 17 and 21, with chances of precipitation hovering at around 60%. If the first-innings lead is not resolved inside the five scheduled days, a sixth day can be added to the final. If there isn't a leader identified on first innings even after six days, the teams will share the trophy.