Central Zone attack sets up easy win
Central Zone won by six wickets, with a bonus point, while the defending champions West earned a minus point
Central Zone 99 for 4 beat West Zone 98 (Chawla 3-11, Praveen 3-18) by six wickets
Praveen Kumar hit his straps immediately in the Deodhar Trophy opener, which Central Zone won by six wickets
The Central Zone swing bowlers utilised a helpful surface, a 9am start, and overcast conditions to push the West Zone innings right to the edge of the cliff, before the spinners came and pushed it over swiftly. A total of 98 was an aberration in a high-scoring domestic one-day season, and Central got to the target without any major hiccups as the opening Deodhar Trophy match at the Chinnaswamy Stadium finished half an hour after lunch.
Central won by six wickets, with a bonus point, while defending champions West were docked a minus point.
Right from the moment Praveen Kumar bowled the first over, after Mohammad Kaif had put West in, it was obvious West were going to have a hard time. Yusuf Pathan, in prodigious form throughout the season, was embarrassed by two in-swingers that preceded an out-swinger, and seemed to have no clue about which way Praveen swung the ball.
Wasim Jaffer hit two beautiful cover drives off the back foot before he got a peach from Praveen in the third over. This one swung late after having angled in, as opposed to the early swing that Jaffer was leaving alone, and took the edge for a low catch for Kaif at first slip. RP Singh soon trapped Pathan with an in-swinger to pull West down to 15 for 2.
Rohit Sharma, fresh from 235 runs in the CB Series in Australia and Ajinkya Rahane, also in good form, got a mini partnership going. It wasn't a convincing one, however, as regular edges kept the bowlers interested. The duo had added 24 before Praveen changed sides and came on from the BEML end. He needed little time if forcing Rahane to chip one to point, and that dismissal triggered a frenzy. Two more wickets fell at the same score and the No. 7, Abhishek Nayar, was caught unawares and just about avoided being timed out. Rohit played an expansive drive and edged Sandeep Singh, Parthiv Patel followed a Praveen in-swinger, and 39 for 2 became 39 for 5.
Nayar might have taken a long time in coming in to bat, but he did stay in the longest to help West get close to 100. Together with Venugopal Rao he forced Kaif to opt for the spinners as they batted sensibly to add 31 for the sixth wicket. Kaif wanted to finish the game off with swing bowlers only, as he continued with Praveen (3 for 18), RP (22 for 1), and Sandeep (21 for 1) for 22 overs. The introduction of spin, normally a reason for cheer given the way the medium-pacers bowled, proved to be the kiss of death for West. Piyush Chawla bowled Rao round the legs with his first delivery, continued to get Iqbal Abdulla caught down the leg by wicketkeeper with his third, and a one-sided contest was reduced to a no contest.
Murali Kartik enjoyed the situation with a number of dangerous arm-balls, one of them trapping Ajit Agarkar in front. When he tossed one up to Munaf Patel, the tail-ender obliged by skying it to mid-off. Another collape, as West slipped from 70 for 5 to 81 for 9 in four overs. Nayar hit two boundaries and a six before being caught at the boundary off a full toss from Chawla, who finished with 3 for 11. When Nayar and Rao were batting, it seemed West might struggle and bat out the 50 overs, but their innings ended in the 30th over.
By the time Munaf, Agarkar and Siddharth Trivedi started bowling, the pitch had lost much of its early-morning freshness, the sun had come out, and the only thing going for them was the good bounce. But the minimal target meant that Faiz Fazal and Naman Ojha, the Central openers, were under no pressure and they negotiated the new ball well. Fazal looked more intent at finishing the game early, and by the time he edged Trivedi to second slip, he had scored 24 off 30 balls, and Central had reached 41 in 7.5 overs.
That Central lost Ojha, Suresh Raina and Kaif just at the brink of the win will leave West wondering what could have happened had they batted through the innings and struggled their way to perhaps 170-odd.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo