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Clash of Titans and stories waiting to be retold

Last updated on 11 Jul 2023 | 11:23 AM
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Clash of Titans and stories waiting to be retold

After a long time, the Duleep Trophy final will not be a set-up for a bespoke audience, but hold a bigger narrative that would define the course of Indian cricket

It is pure coincidence that the final of the 2023-24 domestic season curtain raiser and the first assignment of India’s fresh World Test Championship calendar starts on the same day. It is also a coincidence that it will not clash at all, thanks to the timezone difference between Bengaluru and Roseau, but a story is waiting to be retold at both places. Coincidentally, it has a huge parallel. 

Will Yashasvi Jaiswal and Ruturaj Gaikwad be useful to India’s plans on Wednesday? How will India approach the Cheteshwar Pujara-shaped void, and how will Ajinkya Rahane, fresh from a couple of solid knocks in London last month, be a shaker at No.5? 

While all those questions will be answered in due course of the two Test matches, the Duleep Trophy final provides a solid opportunity for many hopefuls to stake the claim that had seen them bounced off pretty quickly. It was the same narrative in the West Zone and Central Zone semi-final match, yet there was hardly any forward push beyond Cheteshwar Pujara’s second innings regulation century. 

Even though the discussion on Priyank Panchal and Sarfaraz Khan is here to stay, it also holds a lot of value for the Hanuma Vihari-led South Zone, who would use their understanding of the Chinnaswamy wicket - where they played their semi-final against North Zone - to their maximum advantage. West played their last match in Alur on the outskirts of Bengaluru - a venue where uneven bounce created considerable concern for the batters, even reducing their star-studded line-up to 60/5 in the first innings. 

It will not have a bearing on the batting order for the final, though, with Priyank Panchal, Prithvi Shaw, Cheteshwar Pujara, Suryakumar Yadav, and Sarfaraz Khan making a damn good combination. With Gujarat keeper Het Patel and Baroda all-rounder Atit Sheth being capable batters by themselves, them coming good at the Chinnaswamy is just a mere formality. 

If anything, West Zone may have a rethink of their bowling approach. The Gujarat bowling duo of Arzan Nagwaswalla, who picked up a fifer in the first innings, and Chintan Gaja form a pretty good bowling pair with Yuvrajsinh Dodiya and Dharmendrasinh Jadeja adding impetus in the spin department, but where does Tushar Deshpande stand in this? 

Deshpande, who replaced Chetan Sakariya in the squad, seems in very good shape in the nets and can be an ex-factor with his added pace. But if Priyank Panchal decides to go with Shams Mulani, it might come at the cost of Dhodiya, who bowled only five overs in both innings combined. 

For South, Mayank Agarwal and Hanuma Vihari hold the key to success. Four years ago, when India travelled to West Indies to kick start their WTC journey, Vihari was at the forefront with his first Test century. Neither does he exhibit a sense of T20-like urgency in red-ball cricket, nor does he fiddle around with unconventional shots, but as an average of 53.02 would tell you, he knows a thing or two about batting in first-class cricket that many are unbeknownst about. Combined with the presence of Agarwal and M Tilak Varma, the West Zone have a task at hand. 

In the bowling department, they have a minor concern to take care of. Vidwath Kaverappa and Vijaykumar Vyshak are no magicians with the ball, and how they could respond if their backs are against the wall will be a key factor in the match. And that's where the parallel finds its biggest nick. With India might hand a Test debut to Mukesh Kumar in Roseau tomorrow, they would know what the future holds for them as they step into a new era of transition. 

Who is going to define the progress will hold the ace for the likely outcome both in Karnataka and Dominica. 

Probable XIs:

South Zone : Sai Sudharsan, Mayank Agarwal, Samarth R, Hanuma Vihari ©, Ricky Bhui (wk), Tilak Varma, Washington Sundar, Sai Kishore, KV Sasikanth, Vijaykumar Vyshak, Vidhwath Kaverappa

West Zone : Prithvi Shaw, Priyank Panchal (c), Cheteshwar Pujara, Suryakumar Yadav, Sarfaraz Khan, Het Patel (wk), Atit Sheth, Dharmendrasinh Jadeja, Arzan Nagwaswalla, Chintan Gaja, Yuvrajsinh Dodiya/Shams Mulani

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