Relative unknowns seize their chance
Much of the build-up to the Duleep Trophy game surrounded the bowlers vying to reclaim their India caps - Sreesanth, Piyush Chawla and L Balaji - but the two who perhaps had the biggest impact were relative unknowns: Andhra legspinner M Suresh and Vidarbha fast bowler Umesh Yadav.
With the tournament back to its traditional knockout format, they faced the prospect of playing just one match in the limelight before returning to the anonymity of the Ranji Trophy Plate League. Both made the most of their chances: Suresh scored a solid half-century on the first day and took six wickets on the last, while Umesh bowled a sizzling, hostile spell on the first morning in which he removed both Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman.
Their climb to the top of domestic cricket could not have been more different. To paraphrase Vinod Kambli, Suresh took the stairs while Umesh took the elevator.
Suresh, 25, has made his mark as a legspinner who can bat a bit but he started out as a top-order batsman. He camped at all the stops on the way to a place in the Andhra Ranji Trophy side, playing at the Under-16, Under-19 and Under-22 levels before finally making his first-class debut towards the end of 2002. He managed one half-century in his first six games, but worse was to follow: a high score of 21 in ten innings led to his axing from the Andhra side midway through the 2005-06 season.
He focused on his batting during his time out of the team - which lasted nearly two years - before former India allrounder Syed Abid Ali, Andhra's coach in 2007-08, urged him to concentrate on his bowling. The turning point came this season when he took eight wickets in an innings in one Buchi Babu tournament (the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association's curtain-raiser to the season) match.
The transition from batsman to bowling allrounder transformed Suresh's fortunes - he finished as Andhra's leading wicket-taker and led the batting averages as well for 2008-09. From struggling to get a game a little more than a year ago, Suresh is now talking of his responsibilities as a senior player and looking forward to interacting with national selector and former India legspinner Narendra Hirwani during the semi-final in Rajkot.
While it took Suresh many years to find his groove, Umesh's rise has been like his bowling - extremely quick. Less than two years ago he was contemplating becoming a policeman, and had yet to play with a leather ball. Seeing his raw pace with the tennis ball, his friends encouraged him to play divisional cricket in Vidarbha, after which he went for Under-22 trials. He took 2 for 105 in two games but that didn't stop him from being catapulted into the Vidarbha Ranji Trophy team.
Four matches at the first-class level brought him 20 wickets, including a six-wicket haul against Bengal, a spell he still counts as his best. In a little more than three months after his Under-22 debut, he was playing the Duleep Trophy. The fairytale continued on the first day of the Duleep Trophy tie, when he clocked up to 141kph, harried Dravid with his inswing and ended with figures of 5 for 96.
Umesh, though, got a taste of the game's ups and downs on the third day. Batting at No. 11, his side was three runs away from South's total when he was bowled attempting a wild loft to long-on. South progressed on the basis of the first-innings lead and Umesh lost his chance to play another match in the spotlight.
However, both he and Suresh have done enough to ensure their progress will be closely tracked, even though they will spend the next season in the Plate League.
Siddarth Ravindran is a sub-editor at Cricinfo