Half-centuries from Gautam Gambhir and and Shikhar Dhawan helped North Zone canter to a nine-wicket win over South Zone in Mumbai. Chasing 174, Dhawan (50 off 38 balls) and Gambhir (81 off 51 balls) put on 103 for the opening wicket in 11.4 overs to set the platform.
Dhawan, who began in scratchy fashion, found his touch with three fours in successive deliveries off S Aravind in the fourth over to kickstart the chase. After Dhawan charged out to M Ashwin and missed his googly to be stumped, Gambhir and Rishabh Pant (33* off 19 balls) raised 61 runs in 5.5 overs. With 10 runs needed for a win, Gambhir was yorked by Aravind, but North Zone wouldn't be denied as Pant closed out the game with a six off Vinay Kumar, the South Zone captain.
Things didn't initially seem to go North Zone's way after Harbhajan Singh elected to bowl first. The Agarwals - Tanmay and Mayank - blazed to 51 in 5.3 overs before Mayank Dagar struck twice in the space of three overs. Harbhajan claimed wicket-keeper Vishnu Vinod in between Dagar's strikes, the eighth over.
From 65 for 3, Ricky Bhui (50 of 37) and Hanuma Vihari put on 54 in six overs. After Ashish Nehra dismissed Vihari, Bhui and Vijay Shankar (34* off 15 balls) kept the tempo up as South Zone took their total past 170. Nehra and Dagar finished with two wickets each.
Meanwhile, Dinesh Karthik who missed the game because of a bereavement in the family is expected to return ahead of the next game against East Zone on February 15.
Madhya Pradesh batsman Harpreet Singh's 42-ball 62 powered Central Zone to a comfortable six-wicket win over West Zone in the opening game at the Wankhede Stadium. They chased down 161 with 10 balls to spare. Harpreet, who hit four sixes and two fours, was dismissed by Irfan Pathan in the 18th over, but his 79-run association in 7.3 overs with Mahesh Rawat (30 not out off 22 balls) for the fourth wicket had already put the game out of West Zone's reach.
Central Zone didn't have to chase more than what they did was a result of a good bowling effort after captain Naman Ojha elected to field. West Zone got off to a decent start courtesy the Gujarat duo of captain Parthiv Patel and Priyank Panchal, but Parthiv's dismissal in the fourth over resulted in the fall of three more wickets in the next four overs. Having lost the cream of their batting line-up - Parthiv, Panchal, Shreyas Iyer and Kedar Jadhav - West Zone were wilting at 48 for 4 and slumped further when Irfan Pathan was run out in the 11th over.
The rescue act came via Aditya Tare (40 off 33) and Deepak Hooda, who added 47 in 5.3 overs. Despite left-arm seamer Aniket Choudhary removing Tare in the 16th over, Hooda continued to attack and finished with an unbeaten 49 off 26 balls, including four sixes, to muster a competitive total. While seamers Choudhary and Amit Mishra picked up five wickets between them, legspinner Karn Sharma (1 for 24) and left-arm spinner Sohraab Dhaliwal (1-21) bowled tight spells as well.
Ojha was named captain after Suresh Raina pulled out of the tournament. Central Zone coach Harvinder Singh Sodhi said Raina's unavailability was communicated via an email sent on February 10 by Bhoopinder Singh Bhatti, the secretary of the Vidarbha Cricket Association. According to Sodhi, no reason for Raina's withdrawal was mentioned in the mail.