Wakhare continues onward journey as India Red lift Duleep Trophy
The offspinner took a five-wicket haul to end India Green's innings swiftly, but for a tournament that has largely lost context, where will this performance rank?
India Red 388 (Abhimanyu 153, Dharmendrasinh Jadeja 3-93) beat India Green 231 (Markande 76, Unadkat 4-83) and 119 (Lad 42, Wakhare 5-13) by an innings and 38 runs
"I don't have an IPL contract, so I benefit monetarily from these games, but you get it right?" Faiz Fazal laughed as he spoke about the relevance of the Duleep Trophy. He was honest in admitting the current format didn't help develop an "emotional connect" simply because the tournament has become an assortment of players coming together 24 hours before a game. The zonal system used to "invoke pride and a sense of accomplishment." In its current form, team-mates from the Ranji Trophy winning team are pitted against each other - like Akshay Wakhare and Fazal were - and players who featured for India A in a one-day game three days ago are flown to a different city. Some who feel their performances in the season gone by merit reward are left ruing missed opportunities, and a few take a step further and let their frustrations known, as Manoj Tiwary and Sheldon Jackson did.
"Gelling with players can get difficult," Fazal weighed in on the format. "You can't force things on everyone. Say I'm playing for Vidarbha, I can tell my players 'this is the plan, you have to do this.' Here, it gets difficult, people say 'no, we'll try this.' Because the game is on TV, if you perform here, you could get to the next level so everyone wants to play individually. Whereas for the state team at the Ranji Trophy level, you're chasing wins. So it is different. India Red may have the same opinion too, even though they've won now."
For Wakhare, who has been knocking on the doors of the India A team for a while, life hasn't changed a great deal even though he has been at the forefront of Vidarbha's rise as a serious force in Indian domestic cricket. At 33, there may be the argument that age isn't on his side but try telling him that.
On Saturday, he picked up his 19th first-class five-for, a classic exhibition of guile and craft on a surface that didn't offer much, against a batting line-up that played as if they were in a rush to board the next flight home. India Red had already taken a 157-run lead in the first innings, and with Green shot out for 119 in 39.5 overs, Red won by an innings and 38 runs. Wakhare's figures were an impressive 5 for 13 in just 5.5 overs.
"I couldn't quite believe how quickly they folded up," Wakhare laughed afterwards. "The pitch wasn't helping much, but they kept playing shots. For me, the basic plan was to attack. Anyway they were looking to play the big shots, so it was just a matter of time. My bowling plans have always been very simple, depending on how the wickets are playing, and for that, I have to thank Narendra Hirwani. We've been associated for more than 10 years now, and my mindset as a bowler has never been clearer, he has played a big part."
Wakhare's biggest triumph has been to remove perceptions of being able to pick wickets only on rank turners. He has a clean action, gets the ball to drift gently, imparts plenty of revolutions, and relies largely on his stock ball while mixing it up with an excellent slider to left-hand batsmen. He doesn't have the carom ball or the doosra, but those haven't hindered his returns.
He was on a hat-trick when he dismissed Tanveer Ul-Haq and Ankit Rajpoot, and though he didn't get three in three, he had his five-for when Siddhesh Lad chopped on, attempting a flashy cut to one that skid back to cramp him for room. Wakhare had come on after drinks and polished off the tail with little fuss. Mayank Markande, who top-scored with 76 in the first innings to be one of the few bright spots for Green in defeat, didn't walk out to bat due to a glute strain that also kept him off the field for Red's innings.
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo