Mumbai: Defending champions and hosts West Zone will have a clear edge over strong challengers, East Zone when the two teams meet in the day/night final of the Deodhar Trophy inter-zonal limited over competition at the Wankhede Stadium here today.
Even though East have scripted a more comfortable victory over last year's runners-up North Zone, winning by 52 runs in the first semi-final on November 30, West stunned front runners South Zone with a spectacular come from behind two-wicket triumph yesterday in the second semi-final. West Zone have the home advantage, with the wicket prepared for the semifinal yesterday and to be used for the final also, not having the pace and bounce of the track that was made by the curator for the first two games of the tournament.
The home team possesses better all-round strength than East, which is highly dependent on captain Manoj Tiwary. With batting holding the key to the outcome, West's formidable depth in this department as well as the overall quality gives them a major advantage. In the semifinal tie, West were down in the dumps but lapses in the field by South, who put down catches offered twice by hard-hitting top scorer Suryakumar Yadav and by growing-in-stature all-rounder Axar Patel, helped West advancing to the final.
Even in the absence of their two key batsmen -- India stars Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane -- West have strong batting line up with the likes of Ambati Rayudu and captain Yusuf Pathan in the top of the order. East, in comparison, depend heavily on Tiwary, who singlehandedly won them the semifinal with a sparkling and career-best knock of 151 against North.
They are certainly missing the all-round prowess and experience of the injured Laxmi Ratan Shukla. Shreevats Goswami promised much after opening the innings, but could not make his good start count, while the other batsmen, except Tiwary, flopped. There is a distinct likelihood of East, who won the championship last in 2003-04 season, making a couple of changes by bringing in the more experienced Ishank Jaggi and Pritam Das into the playing eleven for tomorrow's game.
Four-time title winners East, have a decent seam attack led by the Bengal duo of Ashok Dinda and Veer Pratap Singh. Even the medium pace of swing bowler Biplab Samantray is expected to come in handy. Shahbaz Nadeem and Saurasish Lahiri provide good spin options for East, but the duo has to conquer the lack of pace
and bounce on what promises to be another flat track.
West's new ball attack, meanwhile, looked lightweight against South on the featherbed wicket with the lack of pace of Shardul Thakur, particularly a worrying factor. The Mumbai player, however, made it up somewhat with some smart fielding and a whirlwind cameo in the end. Third medium pacer -- Maharashtra's Domnic Muthswami -- bowled well to his field and brought down the South run-rate, while Axar also bowled economically and these two would be expected to repeat their performance.
But the hosts bowling, overall, looks below par. The team winning the toss is once again expected to insert the other side in to negate the dew factor in the evening that could make the ball wet and slippery for the fielding side. East Zone coach Shiv Sunder Das expected a well-contested game and hoped his top order batsmen will come up to the plate and support skipper Tiwary.
"It should be a good game. We really played well in the semi-finals (against North). We have a good side bowling wise, Ashok Dinda and Veerpratap Singh bowled well. Biplab Samantaray also bowled well along with the two spinners." "Manoj did exceptionally well. It was a great knock (151 in in semis). I hope we get contribution from Saurabh (Tiwary) and top-order. That will be crucial."
The former India Test opener said the team would wait and watch the amount of dew fall this evening. "Yesterday a lot of runs were scored (West v South semi-final), but I think with a day-night game the quotient might change because in the afternoon the bowlers might not get as much movement as in the morning.
"But night game should be interesting. It depends on how much dew is there and that might be a bit of a factor. If it is cloudy today evening then there won't be that much dew but we will see how it goes." Das felt fielding could be a crucial factor. "We have to be disciplined and fielding will be crucial because I think that will be crucial.
If we put up a good score and field well then that will be the difference tomorrow." West batsman Ambati Rayudu, who is part of the India ODI set-up of late, praised the batting of Yadav and Axar Patel, who turned the semi-final against South upside down with their belligerent half centuries. "It was brilliant batting from Surya and Axar.
And Shardul too. Winning games like this always boost a team and the rest of us will like to contribute tomorrow," said Rayudu, who scored a half ton to set up the successful run chase. The Hyderbad-born player said his team was wary of rival captain Tiwary's abilities with the bat, but was confident his team has a good chance to win the title for the fourth time on the trot.
"He is a brilliant batsman. I am sure we have enough good players in our team as well. If we can play as a team we have a very good chance to win the game." "I think I am a little bit more sensible now. The shot selection...not in the last game! But I am definitely trying to get better," he said to a question about his improvement as
a player after representing the country.
Asked about the tragic death of Australian batsman Phil Hughes following an injury in a Sheffield Shield game, the 29-year-old said he has played against the late player in the junior-level cricket onwards. Rayudu described him as a good friend and the nicest Aussie he had come across.
"We have played against each other from the under-age teams. He was a great competitor from the younger days itself. Its really sad. He was always smiling off the field. "We are both similar in some ways. Playing domestic under-age games and trying to get into our national teams. It was a common thread between us. We have been good friends. He was a tough competitor. He was very friendly and you can say he was the nicest Australian I knew."
East Zone: Manoj Tiwary (captain), Ashok Dinda, Saurasish Lahiri, Shreevats Goswami, Virat Singh, Saurabh Tiwary, Kumar Deobrat, Rahul Shukla, Shahbaz Nadeem, Ishank Jaggi, Parvez Aziz, Pritam Das, Deepak Behera and Arvind Singh.
West Zone: Yusuf Pathan (capt), Ambati Rayudu (vice-capt), Smit Patel, Sheldon Jackson, Kedar Jadhav, Ankit Bawne, Suryakumar Yadav, Akshar Patel, Dhawal Kulkarni,
Shardul Thakur, Rush Kalaria, Dominic Joseph, Deepak Hooda, Shreyas Iyer, Arpit Vasavada.
The match starts at 2 30 pm.