We, Central Zone, had the resources. With an all-India bowling attack by our side, we could well give sleepless nights to most domestic teams. The track, quite unusual for a domestic game, had a thorough covering of fresh grass with enough moisture underneath to make the ball talk, in fact shout in this case. And with a ball like the Kookaburra, used exclusively in the Duleep Trophy, difficult to handle of a responsive surface, it was just going to get tougher for the batsmen, especially the openers and No. 3.
The toss was crucial and after winning it, we quite carelessly assumed the job was half done. And perhaps, that's where we got it all wrong.
We didn't bowl in the right areas and allowed the opposition to get off the hook, a fatal mistake regardless of the quality of resources at hand. We squandered the advantage and East grabbed it with both hands. Both Manoj Tiwary and Ishank Jaggi (a talented cricketer from MS Dhoni's land) helped themselves to fine centuries, though guilty of not converting them into big ones, something they might be regretting now.
We, on the other hand, realised our mistakes. We tried to undo our errors with the second new ball and managed a mini-comeback to restrict the East Zone from posting a mammoth total. Four hundred and twenty-eight was by no means paltry, but at 284 for 2, one would have expected them to exceed 500 with ease. They failed to, and in spite of mounting the pressure, East didn't bat us completely out of the game.
If Central Zone had the resources, East Zone had the resolve. They made up for their lower batting order failure with a spirited bowling effort. The Kookaburra ball behaves in a very peculiar fashion, it swings and seams (if the conditions are conducive) while it's new. Both the shine and seam disappears the moment it gets old and it becomes hard toil for the bowlers (more about the Kookaburra ball in my next column). East's bowling was not even half as threatening as ours but their discipline and hunger to gain the first-innings lead made all the difference. They bowled their heart out and with a lot of discipline, to gain a slender lead, which everyone thought was enough to book a place in the semi-finals.
But Pankaj Singh and co. had other plans. They ran in hard, hit the right areas consistently and made the ball swing and seam. If Pankaj bowled with a lot of pace, RP Singh bowled with a lot of control. Then Umesh Yadav came and blew away the rest, for his pace was too hot to handle for the lower order. Orissa Cricket Association deserves a special mention for making a track which had something in it for the bowlers even on the last day. The bounce was consistent (slightly higher than the slow/low tracks we find in most other venues) and there was enough movement off the surface if you pitched the ball in the right areas. The grass remained green till the last day and wasn't there just to keep the surface together.
We wouldn't have clawed our way back into the game if the track had been docile. Kudos to the curator! This particular game showed, once again, that talent without resolve is simply not good enough. And if talented men put their mind to matter, even the inconceivable can be achieved.