In a story book finish, the Deodhar Trophy final between South Zone and Central Zone ended in a pulsating tie at the KD Singh `Babu' stadium in Lucknow on Thursday. To Central Zone's total of 298 for eight in 50 overs, South Zone were all out for 298 off the last ball of their innings. Skippers Amay Khurasiya and Robin Singh jointly received the trophy.
After Central Zone posted their imposing total, South Zone, after a good start, seemed to have lost their way in the middle overs despite a gallant 91 by `Mr Consistent' VVS Laxman. And at 258 for nine after 46 overs, it seemed over for South Zone. But in an unbelievable finish, No 10 WD Balaji Rao and No 11 Venkatpathy Raju took South Zone closer to the target with a mixture of aggressive shots and quick singles. When they came together, 41 runs were required in four overs. But finally it boiled down to 11 off the last over and one off the last ball. But Raju patted the ball back to the bowler Md Kaif and was run out in going for the all important single.
At the start of the innings, South Zone needed virtually six runs an over and openers Arun Kumar and Amit Pathak gave their side an excellent start by putting on 51 runs off seven overs before the former was out to a splendid running catch by Kanwat at mid on for 21. The Karnataka batsman faced 25 balls and hit three of them to the fence. Off the last ball of the following over, Dodda Ganesh, promoted in the batting order, hit all over a dipping full toss from Shriwastava to be bowled for zero.
Laxman joined Pathak and the two steadied the innings during a third wicket association which lasted 7.4 overs and realised 46 runs. But at 98, Pathak who was batting well, was run out for 47. The Andhra opener compiled his runs off only 41 balls with the help of seven boundary hits.
Tamil Nadu left hander Sridharan Sharath joined Laxman and the two continued the good work by adding 59 runs for the fourth wicket off 11.5 overs. Then Murali Kartik dived forward to pick up a return catch to send back Sarath. For his valuable 31, Sarath faced 42 balls and hit one boundary. As Vijay Bhardwaj walked out to join Laxman, South Zone still required 142 runs for victory off 22.3 overs. But they received a jolt when in going for a quick single, Bharadwaj was run out by a direct throw by Bundela for seven and South Zone were now 175 for five in the 32nd over.
Laxman, who in the meantime had crossed his half century, was now joined by Robin Singh and the run chase had reached a crucial stage. The two pushed the score along to 198 when Md Kaif deceived Robin with a flighted delivery and had the captain stumped for 15. At his going, South Zone still needed 101 runs off 12.5 overs but now had only four wickets in hand.
As wicketkeeper LNP Reddy joined Laxman, Central Zone were now the favourites. But Reddy changed the equations by taking 13 runs off the 41st over bowled by Yadav. Laxman and Reddy then took nine runs off the next over bowled by Kaif and with eight overs left, South Zone required 65 runs for victory.
Murali Kartik was now brought back into the attack and he sent down a very accurate 43rd over in which South Zone got only three runs. With seven overs left, South Zone now needed 62 runs. Off the next over bowled by Sriwastava, South Zone scored another nine runs and Laxman entered the 90s. Murali Kartik however struck a vital blow in the 45th over when he had Laxman brilliantly caught low down at extra cover by Khurasiya for a gallant 93. The stylist from Hyderabad faced 103 balls and hit six of them to the ropes. But now with their main hope gone, South Zone, at 254 for seven, after 45 overs were clearly facing defeat.
Kumaran was run out in the next over, following a direct throw from Md Kaif at extra cover. Another run out off the last ball of the same over saw Reddy being the batsman dismissed. The bowler Sriwastava on his follow through threw the stumps down at the striker's end as the batsman attempted a quick single. Reddy had hit 30 off 29 balls with four boundary hits. South Zone now required 41 runs off four overs with only one wicket remaining.
The last wicket pair of Balaji Rao and Venkatpathy Raju, throwing caution to the winds, took eleven runs off the next over. South Zone now needed 30 runs from three overs. Seven more runs off the next over from Sriwastava made the target now 23 runs needed from two overs. Off the next over sent down by Yadav, the batsmen helped themselves to 12 runs with Balaji Rao continuing to dominate the run getting. Now South Zone required 11 runs from the last over.
Off the first ball of the last over bowled by Kaif, Raju took a single. It was now ten off five balls. Off the next delivery Balaji Rao took a single. Now the target was nine off four balls. The crucial blow was struck off the next ball with Raju swinging the ball straight for a splendid six, the ball just eluding the outstretched hands of the fielder on the boundary line. Now the target was a more realistic three runs off three balls. Off the fourth ball, the 31-year-old veteran left arm spinner but right hand batsman took a single. Now two were needed off two balls. Off the fifth ball the batsmen scampered a leg bye. Now the scores were tied and South Zone required only one run off the last delivery. Khurasiya, predictably enough, brought all the fielders in to save the one. Kaif took some time to bowl the vital delivery and Raju played it straight down the line. The batsmen took off for the all important run. But Kaif pounced on the ball and threw it at the stumps running out Raju at the non striker's end. And an exciting match came to a pulsating end with a rare result. Which in the final analysis was just about right for neither side deserved to lose. Balaji Rao's unbeaten 30 off 20 balls with four boundary hits was a little gem. Incidentally it was for the first time that the final of the tournament, which was first played in 1973-74, had ended in a tie.
Earlier, put in to bat, Central Zone put up their challenging total, thanks in the main again to skipper Amay Khurasiya's belligerence. South Zone got an early break when Dodda Ganesh had Jai Yadav, who got a century in the semifinal, leg before for ten. His fall brought Khurasiya to the crease but a little later, RJ Kanwat was caught behind off Kumaran for 13.
Gagan Khoda joined Khurasiya at 57 for two and the two got the Central innings back on track with a breezy third wicket partnership of 92 runs off 15 overs. Khoda was content to play second fiddle to his captain who blazed away with a number of dashing strokes, as though carrying on from where he left off in the semifinal against West Zone, when he hammered 86 runs off 51 balls. Khoda made a sedate 34 off 46 balls with two hits to the boundary before he was stumped by Reddy off Venkatapathy Raju.
Khurasiya went along his merry way until, at 177 in the 31st over, he gave Vijay Bhardwaj a return catch. Khurasiya again got 86, this time off 74 balls with seven fours and a six. But South Zone's joy at removing a dangerous batsman was short lived as Md Kaif and Raja Ali shared a fifth wicket partnership of 69 runs off 11.4 overs. Both the batsmen got 41 but while Kaif took 53 balls over it and hit only one boundary, Ali faced only 43 balls and hit two of them to the ropes.
At 246 for four in the 42nd over with two well entrenched batsmen at the crease, Central seemed well on their way to a total of over 300. But towards the end, they faltered. Kaif and Ali fell in quick succession and then wicketkeeper AS Srivastava was run out for 12 off eleven balls. Murali Kartik gave Ganesh a return catch off the first ball he received. Despite the gallant efforts of D Bundela, who cracked an unbeaten 27 off 24 balls with two boundary hits, Central fell two short of the 300 mark. Both Srivastava and Kartik were out in the last over. Medium pacers Ganesh and Kumaran, who each took two wickets for 53 and 42 runs respectively, were the pick of the bowlers.
The match incidentally was a benefit for former Uttar Pradesh Ranji player Neeru Kapoor who represented the state from 1964 to 1971. In 12 matches, Kapoor scored 408 runs with a highest score of 62 against Vidarbha.