Central go through after shock comeback
Central Zone 390 (Kaif 105, Bundela 80) and 135 (Chopra 59*, Mishra 50) beat East Zone 427 (Jaggi 118, Tiwary 109, Pankaj 4-126) and 96 (Yadav 3-17, Pankaj 3-34, RP Singh 3-42)
In an extraordinary turnaround, Central Zone have qualified for the Duleep Trophy semi-finals, after bowling out East Zone in less than a session and then chasing down the required 134 runs before tea on the fourth day. The result seemed impossible at the start of the day, with East leading by 61 runs with nine wickets in hand, and looking set to go through on their first-innings lead.
However, Central's pace trio of Uttar Pradesh's RP Singh, Rajasthan's Pankaj Singh and Vidarbha's Umesh Yadav had other ideas. Pankaj sparked the collapse, taking three quick wickets, including that of first-innings centurion Ishank Jaggi, to leave East, whose batting line-up had been shortened due to an injury to Saurabh Tiwary, in trouble at 44 for 4. Yadav, who recently signed a lucrative contract with IPL franchise Delhi Daredevils, continued the destruction, getting the other first-innings centurion Manoj Tiwary for 21. Yadav and RP Singh wiped out the tail and East were bowled out for 96, having added only 72 runs in the day.
It was an unexpected collapse, since both teams had scored heavily in their first innings, and Central proved that the pitch hadn't suddenly developed demons overnight. They made light work of knocking off the required runs, losing just one wicket in the process. Openers Aakash Chopra and Mohnish Mishra made up for their first-innings failures with half-centuries in the second and Central were home with only 61.2 overs bowled in the day.
Central coach Abhay Sharma praised his bowlers. "It has been a thrilling game throughout the four days. Even we did not know that such a turnaround could be possible. But the three fast bowlers bowled their hearts out in the second innings. We targeted short of a good length, and bowled a disciplined line. And we also held all the chances that came our way.
"I must also give credit to our batsmen, especially Kaif and Bundela, who got us so close to the East Zone total. We were disappointed at conceding the lead, but I am delighted at the way we fought back."
Central will play South Zone in the semi-final, which begins on January 26.