Calcutta/ Visakhapatnam: A formidable South Zone team will start as favourites against defending champions East Zone in the semi-final of the Duleep Trophy, starting at the ACA-VDCA Stadium from Sunday.
The 22-yard-strip at the stadium has always assisted the batsmen and it won’t be any different this time around.
With the likes of in-form opener Abhinav Mukund, swashbuckling batsman Robin Uthappa and the enormously talented Manish Pandey, South Zone will be eyeing to put up a huge total against a weak East Zone bowling attack, which will be spearheaded by last season’s top wicket-taker Ashok Dinda.
With Shami Ahmed not unavailable due to a side strain that he sustained during India A team’s tour of New Zealand, the Bengal attack has a weakened look.
Dinda, who has been a regular feature in the Indian squad of late, will try to use all his experience to rattle the opponent’s batting. He will have Odisha seamer Basant Mohanty and all-rounder Biplab Samantray for support.
South, on the other hand, will bank on the experienced Ranganath Vinay Kumar and Abhimanyu Mithun to lead the attack. Left-arm spinner KP Appanna will provide variety to the attack.
Talking about batting, both the sides will be missing a few key players due to the ongoing Champions League T20 tournament in South Africa.
While South Zone will miss openers Subramanium Badrinath, Murali Vijay, off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin — the trio is playing for Chennai Super Kings — glovesman Dinesh Karthik will be busy doing Mumbai Indians duty.
Similarly, East Zone batting looks thin on experience as Manoj Tiwary and Wriddhiman Saha are also in South Africa for the CLT20. While Manoj is playing for Kolkata Knight Riders, Wriddhiman is representing Chennai Super Kings.
In the absence of these two batsmen, East Zone will depend on the batting prowess of skipper Nataraj Behera, Anustup Majumdar and Dheeraj Jadhav. Anustup had a good India A tour of New Zealand where he scored two half centuries in the four-day matches. East Zone will certainly hope that the batsman will fire.
Subhrojit Saikia, East Zone’s coach, said he is confident of pulling off a win.
“We are a well-knit side… We have prepared well. If our boys can execute the plan, we can win the match,” said Saikia. “The wicket looks good for batting… I back our batsmen to come good.”
Meanwhile, East Zone team manager Samir Dasgupta informed that the match will spill over to the fifth day if no result can be achieved at the end of the fourth day.