West Zone 319 for 8 (Jackson 51, Rayudu 54, Suryakumar 80, Akshar 64*) beat South Zone 314 for 7 (Agarwal 86, Aparajith 56, Manish Pandey 55) by two wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
It's his bowling exploits in domestic cricket, particularly in the IPL, that have earned Akshar Patel his ODI cap. Still, Akshar has time and again stressed that he is a better batsman than a bowler. On Monday, he proved his batting credentials with a match-winning unbeaten 64 off just 38 balls to help West Zone snatch the Deodhar Trophy semi-final away from South Zone.
Thanks to Akshar's assault and his quickfire partnerships with Suryakumar Yadav and Shardul Thakur, West managed to overhaul South Zone's total of 314 with almost three overs to spare. West will face East Zone in the final on Wednesday.
Despite being defending champions, West entered the game as underdogs against a strong South outfit. When Akshar joined Suryakumar at the crease, South were on top. At 174 for six in the 33rd over, with their middle order having crumbled, West required a special effort if they were to get back in the game.
Suryakumar had survived two dropped catches on 9 and 11, a return chance to Ashish Reddy and a skier at square point by Mayank Agarwal off the same bowler. In the 34th over, Suryakumar began the fightback with a hooked six off Abhimanyu Mithun. Then came a momentum-shifting Powerplay.
Akshar timed a lofted drive off Vinay Kumar in the 36th over, sending it sailing over the long-on fence, and then drove the next ball over cover for four. The first three overs of the Powerplay yielded 38 runs and with 87 required from 12 overs, the West dressing room could begin to think of winning.
Suryakumar then plundered Stuart Binny for 16 runs from the first four balls of the 39th over, but flicked the next ball, a full-toss, from way outside off stump and offered Baba Aparajith a regulation catch at deep square leg.
With more than 70 runs still required, it was left for Akshar to do the scoring, hoping that Dhawal Kulkarni would stay with him at the other end. Akshar ended the Powerplay on a strong note, with a cut off Vinay that landed beyond the point boundary and pulled four in the same over. West had scored 67 runs in the Powerplay.
But they suffered another jolt soon after, with Kulkarni going for a big hit in the 41st over, despite Akshar having struck a six and a four off the first two balls, and holing out to long-on. With 46 runs required and just two wickets in hand, Patel found an ally in Shardul Thakur and the Mumbai bowler was by no means a silent contributor to the partnership. With 23 runs required off the last four overs, Thakur took charge and tonked Reddy for two sixes and two fours to seal the fate of the game. Akshar completed the formalities at the start of the 48th over, lifting Aparajith for a straight six.
The ferocity of Akshar and Suryakumar's late charge, helped by medicore bowling from South once they were put under pressure, overshadowed an impressive batting effort earlier in the day. Put in to bat, three of South's top five scored half-centuries to help South raise a 300-plus total. But that turned to be far from enough.
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo