East Zone 370 (Saha 170, Majumdar 52) beat Central Zone 133 (Dinda 4-29, Ahmed 4-73) and 217 (Ahmed 4-50) by an innings and 20 runs
East Zone surged to their maiden Duleep Trophy title in less than eight sessions in Indore, their fast bowlers ripping through a spineless Central Zone line-up with a succession of short deliveries. Despite trailing by 237 runs after the first innings in a five-day game, Central tried to pull and hook their way out of trouble, but only managed to top-edge catches.
Central Zone had caved in for 133 in the first innings. Take out the opening partnership of 79, and they managed 138 in the second - they were minus opener Vineet Saxena, who wasn't able to bat after fracturing a finger. The Holkar Stadium pitch had eased out on day two going by the way Wriddhiman Saha had flayed the Central Zone medium-pacers for 170. But Shami Ahmed and Ashok Dinda showed that there was still help from the surface for those who had the ability and the intent to extract it.
Bengal fast bowler Shami was outstanding, consistently getting bounce and zip from just short of a good length. Dinda, whether he was running in during his first over or his 25th, leapt into his delivery stride with the same effort to end the first-class season with a staggering 59 wickets.
The only sore point in an otherwise dominant performance was East Zone's slip catching. Shami alone had at least a couple of catches put down and at one point shrieked at his blundering team-mates in frustration, "Ye kya kar rahey ho yaar?" (What are you guys doing?). It also led a spectator to wryly shout, "Catch pakad bhi liya karo" (You should hold your catches at times as well).
Central Zone, though, were in no mood to put up any sort of fight, despite national selector Narendra Hirwani's presence. Central Zone began the day trailing by 189, and had to go for quick runs if they were to come back into the game. Saha had said yesterday that East Zone would look for wickets in the first session on day three, and their fast bowlers were relentless in that quest today. That Naman Ojha and Jalaj Saxena were able to last for almost nine overs today was down more to their good fortune than their survival skills.
Jalaj had resisted through a mix of inside edges, slashes, slogs and lofted shots. On 46, he steered Dinda straight to gully, where Shahbaz Nadeem juggled and put down the catch. Two balls later, Dinda produced a searing bouncer, Jalaj went for the hook, but could only top-edge to fine leg. It was to become a pattern.
Before that, though, Shami served more notice of his ability to get the ball to rear from just short of a length. Ojha could only fend the snorter to Saha. Mohammad Kaif, who is usually a jittery starter, seemed like getting out at any moment, edging through the cordon a couple of times. He chose to pull a short Shami ball from outside off stump, and fine leg was in business again.
The Ranji Trophy's highest run-getter, Robin Bist, fluffed another opportunity to push his case at the zonal level. Dinda sent one at his throat, Bist hooked, and Saha ran behind square leg to take the offering. The bouncers to the batsmen before him made Parvinder Singh try to play even a good length Shami delivery from the crease, only to be trapped plumb in front. Parvinder fell off the last ball before lunch, and the talk during the break was about how soon the innings-defeat would arrive.
It arrived just over an hour into the second session. If the specialist batsmen had not held back on the pull, there was no question of Piyush Chawla doing so. Another bouncer. Another top-edge to fine leg. Another tame dismissal.
Mohnish Mishra played some big strokes during his 44, but he was put down three times in the cordon - two of the chances were straightforward. Anustup Majumdar finally held on to a chance to end Mishra's stay and give Dinda his third wicket.
The end came soon with TP Sudhindra holing out to deep midwicket, setting off celebrations among the East Zone players, who took back all six stumps as mementos. Three wins in three games, two of them outright. No longer were they pushovers in the Duleep Trophy.
Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo