Indore: Vatentine's Day tuned out to be a 'Red Letter Day' for East Zone as they etched their name on the Duleep Trophy for the first time in 51 years. And they achieved the feat in a canter, defeating Central Zone by an innings and 20 runs at the Holkar stadium.
The game which was supposed to last five days, ended before tea on the third, so mismatched was the contest. Central Zone batsmen, after the abject surrender on the opening day, when they were bowled out for 133, were expected to put up a much-improved showing in the second essay in the light of the solid beginning provided by their openers last evening. But that did not happen as East Zone bowlers tightened the screw on them.
Despite trailing by 237 runs, there was hope that the home batsmen would come good to at least make a match of it. Most of their batsmen have scored heavily in the domestic season before coming into the final.
But it turned out to be a spineless performance, with batsman after batsman perishing to reckless shots. As many as five of them were caught attempting to pull short balls while the last two fell hitting the spinner in the air.
The East Zone pace trio of Ashok Dinda, Shami Ahmed and Basant Mohanty were again at the throat of the Central Zone batsmen which forced them into indiscretion. They gave them no respite peppering them with short-pitched deliveries.
The flummoxed batsmen went for extravagant pull shots and perished without much fight, be it Jalaj Saxena, Mohammed Kaif, Robin Bist, Mohnsih Mishra, or skipper Piyush Chawla himself.
Their in-form batsman Vineet Saxena was out of the match after fracturing his finger while fielding on the second day, but still no one expected the sudden end to the match, especially as the opening pair of Naman Ojha and Jalaj Saxena had provided a fine start of 79.
Barring Ojha who got a brute of a delivery from Shami to be caught behind, the others fell to deliveries which they could well have been left alone. Dinda grabbed three wickets, following up on his first innings haul of four to end the domestic first class season with the highest tally of 59 wickets. He had 37 in the Ranji trophy for Bengal and 22 from three matches in the Duleep Trophy.
Chawla aptly summed up after the match. "We were outplayed in the final. But I expected our batsmen to show some fight in the second innings, but they played irresponsible cricket and paid the price."
The winning captain, Natraj Behera said that his young team was motivated to win the trophy. "After overcoming West and North on way to the final, we were bubbling with confidence and we were really charged up. Winning the toss became crucial as our pacemen bowled on a pitch which had a fair sprinkling of grass and ample carry. We used the conditions well and thus reaped the benefits."