Formidable West Zone start favourites
With five batsmen and four bowlers among the top ten in this season's Ranji Trophy runs and wickets charts, West Zone start as favourites against East Zone in their Duleep Trophy semi-final, which begins tomorrow at the Brabourne Stadium.
A top order comprising Wasim Jaffer, Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara - the top three run-makers this year - and a bowling attack led by Dhawal Kulkarni [the joint highest wicket-taker] along with Siddarth Trivedi , Ramesh Powar and Samad Fallah make West an intimidating prospect. And this is not even their first XI: Sachin Tendulkar, Zaheer Khan, Rohit Sharma, Munaf Patel, the Pathan brothers [Irfan and Yusuf] and Ravindra Jadeja are away on national duty. Even in their absence East have much to worry about.
East have two internationals in their ranks - Shiv Sunder Das, their captain, and Manoj Tiwary - who will need to take charge if they are to match their formidable rivals. They will also need the best out of the new-ball pair of Ranadeb Bose and Basanth Mohanty, who might find the Kookaburra ball to their liking, especially in the morning session.
Most of all, East will need a superlative team effort. Das, leading East for the second successive year, said it was a challenge captaining players from five different states (Bengal, Orissa, Jharkhand, Tripura and Assam) but said he was getting used to it. He admitted West are a "strong" opponent, but said he had faith in his seamers to do the job. "The side that plays the new ball (both batsmen and bowlers) well will hold the upper hand. And I back my seamers [Bose, Mohanty and Ashok Dinda]," Das said after the training session.
Both captains spoke about the true behaviour of the pitch, expected to be lively in the first session with enough moisture for the fast bowlers to create an advantage. There have been results in all the three games played at the ground this season and another one cannot be ruled out over the next four days. The curator has left a light grass cover, so some action is expected in the first session at least on the first two mornings with spin coming into play in second half of the match.
Although the line-ups are to be picked on the morning of the game, the pace-conducive pitch will influence the final XIs with both teams likely to adopt a five-bowler strategy (three seamers and two spinners).
Apart from bonding as a unit, certain players will aim to further their ambitions of making it to the next level. "If they perform for themselves it will help the team. They can think of getting not only on the New Zealand tour but also into the India A squads," Jaffer said. Between the two teams there are five players with a BCCI contract - Jaffer, Parthiv Patel and Cheteshwar Pujara from West and East's pair of Wriddhiman Saha and Ashok Dinda - and all of them will look to make an impact to attract the attention of the selectors.
Of the five, Parthiv will entertain strong hopes of making a comeback at least as a stand-by wicketkeeper for Mahendra Singh Dhoni on the New Zealand tour. Even if Dinesh Karthik has been making a statement with the bat his keeping remains a concern and Parthiv will hope the selectors give him another chance after recalling him for the third Test of the Sri Lanka series last year. He has had a strong domestic season with the bat, piling up 526 runs in eight games at 47 - including a double-century - and leading Gujarat to the Ranji quarterfinals.
West Zone (likely): Wasim Jaffer (capt), Parthiv Patel (wk), Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara, Kedar Jadhav, Bhavik Thakker, Ramesh Powar, Rajesh Pawar, Dhawal Kulkarni, Siddarth Trivedi, Samad Fallah
East Zone (likely): Shiv Sunder Das (capt), Dibyendu Chakravarthy, Manoj Tiwary, Rashmi Parida, Nishit Shetty, Niranjan Behera, Wriddhiman Saha, Ranadeb Bose, Ashok Dinda, Basant Mohanty, Anand Katti.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo