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Discards out to prove relevance as Duleep Trophy semis reckon

Last updated on 04 Jul 2023 | 12:23 PM
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Discards out to prove relevance as Duleep Trophy semis reckon

West Zone will take on Central Zone in Alur whereas North and South will lock horns against each other in Bengaluru

Cheteshwar Pujara, Sarfaraz Khan, Suryakumar Yadav, Prithvi Shaw, and Priyank Panchal - just by reading the names, you’d know that it’s an enviable line-up. Clash them against the likes of Rinku Singh, Avesh Khan, Shivam Mavi, and Saurabh Kumar - we have a game that’s bound to be enigmatic.

Not often would you see a domestic match getting as much attention as the upcoming Duleep Trophy semi-final between Central Zone and West Zone. The star-studded West unit not only provide an imposing challenge for the Shivam Mavi-led Central Zone, but the relevance far exceeds the cause, with the national selectors keen on understanding how the aforementioned names fare. 

Shiv Sundar Das and Sridharan Sharath kept close eyes on the proceedings in Alur during the quarterfinal match between East Zone and Central Zone, and the disappointment of seeing Abhimanyu Easwaran being dismissed for a combined total of 11 runs was palpable. After being unfairly snubbed from the Indian squad for the series in West Indies, in which the selectors decided to go with flashier openers like Ruturaj Gaikwad and Yashasvi Jaiswal as back-ups, Easwaran had a golden opportunity to stake his claim, but the golden duck added insult to the injury.

That would run in the minds of the likes of Pujara, who, for all his brilliance in the second division of the County Championship, has struggled to be the same player in the Test arena in the last few years. Suryakumar was briefly but incandescently tested in the Test middle-order, but the management quickly realized why all modern-day flashers are not cut from the same cloth as Rishabh Pant. 

But what about Sarfaraz Khan? Can there ever be a valid justification for excluding him from the tour of the West Indies? If not, will the runs he piles in this match bear any bearing on his cricketing future? Justifications can be far and few, but this match is a chance to ensure that relevance is not lost in the process. 

On the other hand, Central Zone skipper Mavi has faced a torrid time since his India debut earlier this year. Match times have been limited, with him warming the bench throughout the Indian Premier League. It was visible from his lack of rhythm in the quarter-finals, but he would want to take the bull by the horns with Avesh and Saurabh for company. The trio formed a formidable attack, which West can never discount. 

Batting, however, has continued to be a cause of concern for the Central Zone. Even though Himanshu Mantri and Vivek Singh have shown exceptional new-ball negotiation skills, the middle-order batters, including Rinku, have failed to inspire any confidence. To solve it, there will be a toss-up between Shubham Sharma and Upendra Yadav if Mavi and coach Nikhil Doru decide to bring Vidarbha’s Akshay Wadkar into the squad. 

West Zone: Priyank Panchal (Captain), Cheteshwar Pujara, Suryakumar Yadav, Harvik Desai (wicketkeeper), Prithvi Shaw, Het Patel (wicketkeeper), Sarfaraz Khan, Arpit Vasavada, Atit Seth, Shams Mulani, Yuvraj Dodiya, Dharmendrasinh Jadeja, Tushar Deshpande, Chintan Gaja, Arzan Nagwaswalla

Central Zone: Shivam Mavi (Captain), Upendra Yadav (vice-captain and wicketkeeper), Vivek Singh, Himanshu Mantri, Kunal Chandela, Shubham Sharma, Amandeep Khare, Rinku Singh, Akshay Wadkar, Dhruv Jurel, Saurabh Kumar, Manav Sathar, Saransh Jain, Avesh Khan, Yash Thakur


Easy-peasy for South at Chinnaswamy?

Purely on a man-to-man basis, South Zone have a squad far superior to that of North Zone. From the likes of Hanuma Vihari, Mayank Agarwal, Sai Sudharsan, R Samarth, Washington Sundar, and Tilak Varma, they have all bases covered to take on the Jayant Yadav-led North Zone, who demolished North-East Zone by 570 runs in the quarter-finals.

The nature of the Chinnaswamy wicket, unlike that of Alur, is such that runs are going to flow thick and fast. But unlike that of Alur, there will hardly be any player that the selectors would be worried about, for beyond Tilak and Washington, there is no immediate contender for a spot in the national side.

But what about Vihari? As India went back to Ajinkya Rahane for a middle-order spot, Vihari’s contributions were conveniently forgotten despite the latter’s body of work in tough conditions deserving a longer rope. It was understandable in the context of Shreyas Iyer pipping him to the post in late 2021, but didn’t Vihari deserve a chance to stake his claim?

Then there is Agarwal. Once considered a prospect to lead Sunrisers Hyderabad in IPL 2023, Agarwal’s stocks have massively fallen ever since. But the highest run-scorer of the 2022-23 Ranji season, he will be eager to show why he is considered as one of the finest batters against spinners to keep the conversation going. 

Under the tutelage of Ajay Ratra, North Zone have posed an impending look, but winning against North-East is hardly a precursor for what to expect against a strong South Zone attack. With Ravichandran Ashwin and Mohammed Siraj on national duty, there is a considerable lack of enforcement in the bowling department, but that can only bolster the confidence of Vidhwath Kaverappa and Darshan Misal to lead the side from the front.

South Zone: Hanuma Vihari (Captain), Mayank Agarwal (vice-captain), Sai Sudharsan, Ricky Bhui (wicketkeeper), R Samarth, Washington Sundar, Sachin Baby, Pradosh Ranjan Paul, Sai Kishore, V Kaverappa, V Vyshak, KV Sasikanth, Darshan Misal, Tilak Varma.

North Zone: Nehal Wadhera, Prashant Chopra, Dhruv Shorey, Manan Vohra, Prabhsimran Singh (wicketkeeper), Ankit Kumar, AS Kalsi, Harshit Rana, Abid Mushtaq, Jayant Yadav, Pulkit Narang, Nishant Sindhu, Sidharth Kaul, Vaibhav Arora, Baltej Singh.

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