West end up the best in Duleep Trophy

Through the course of the tournament, everyone had nothing but praise for the leadership of the 34-year-old Ajinkya Rahane.
Ajinkya Rahane leads West Zone to glory from the jaws of defeat.  The victors all smiles.  (Photo |S Senbagapandiyan / EPS )
Ajinkya Rahane leads West Zone to glory from the jaws of defeat. The victors all smiles. (Photo |S Senbagapandiyan / EPS )

COIMBATORE: When West Zone were reduced to 167/8 on Day 1 of the Duleep Trophy final against South Zone, it seemed like the match was going in just one direction. Even as they recovered to 267, it did not seem enough. After all, South Zone did take the lead on Day two. But over the last 48 hours, West Zone came together as a team to put up an inspiring performance, claiming their first Duleep Trophy title since 2009-10 with an emphatic 294-run victory on Sunday at the Sri Ramakrishna College ground, Coimbatore.

Coincidentally, that was the last time Ajinkya Rahane, who led West Zone to glory here, took part in the tournament. Which is why, for him, this title meant a lot. He said as much after winning the trophy.

How did he and West Zone script a perfect comeback after their struggles on Day one? It was a mix of the exuberance of youth and wily wisdom of the experienced campaigners. First, Jaydev Unadkat brought all his skills and smartness to the fore. The Saurashtra captain troubled the top-order with the new Kookaburra ball. And once it became soft, he created angles to take the ball away. He also brought the ball back in, depending on the batter and the way the pitch was operating. Unadkat finished with 13 wickets and 50 runs and was named the player of the tournament.

With the bat, it was the youth that came to the rescue. If it was Het Patel in the first innings, Yashasvi Jaiswal and Sarfaraz Khan took the game away from South on Day Three and Four. They fed on an inexperienced pace attack and took the attack to their key bowler in Sai Kishore, who had an odd forgettable outing.

Perhaps, the biggest factor in their comeback was their captain Rahane. Through the course of the tournament, everyone had nothing but praise for the leadership of the 34-year-old. On-field tactics — that were spot on — apart, he marshalled his troops, held the team together, allowed them to express themselves but at the same time, knew when to put his foot down.

In fact, on Sunday, Jaiswal was repeatedly sledging South’s Ravi Teja to an extent where the umpires had to intervene. Rahane took things on his own hands and asked the 20-year-old to leave the field. “Certain things you have to follow on the field. There are authorities and umpires, they have the power. They control the game, you should give respect to them. The opposition is also here to play. So, you should respect them and play the game in a dignified manner,” he said.

But when any of the younger players reached out to him for suggestions or a chat, Rahane was always there. The 20-year-old southpaw credited his double-century to his skipper and the guidance he gave. Rahane, however, feels it's a two-way street. “Whenever you see something or people ask you something, you always try and help. I think I also learn a lot from them. That learning process always has to be there,” said the skipper.

There is a lot to take away for West Zone as a team and as individuals. From those in the mid-20s like Patel, Sarfaraz, and Jaiswal, to those in their 30s (Unadkat and Rahane), they all have their own goals as the full-fledged domestic season is just getting underway. But for now, they will take heart from the fact that they all came together for their team and performed collectively to help West Zone their first title since 2009.

Brief scores: West Zone 270 & 585/4d bt South Zone 327 & 234 in 71.2 ovs (Rohan 93, Teja 53, Mulani 4/51).

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