Vinay-led South eye final berth in Duleep

A formidable South Zone team will start as clear favourites against defending champions East Zone in the semifinal of the Duleep Trophy starting at the VDCA ground on Sunday.

The pitch at the Visakhapatnam Stadium has always assisted the batsmen and it won’t be any different this time round.

South Zone with likes of domestic heavyweights in Abhinav Mukund, swashbuckling opener Robin Uthappa and the talented Manish Pandey will like to make the most of an under-cooked East Zone bowling attack which depends a lot on last season’s top wicket-taker Ashok Dinda.

With Shami Ahmed unavailable due to a side strain sustained during Indian ‘A’ team’s tour of New Zealand, Dinda will have Orissa seamer Basant Mohanty and all-rounder Biplab Samantray for support. South’s bowling attack will have skipper and experienced R Vinay Kumar supported by his Karnataka state-mate Abhimanyu Mithun and left-arm spinner K P Appanna.

Both teams will, however, be missing a few key players due to the ongoing Champions League T20 tournament in South Africa.

South Zone will miss their experienced run-machine S Badrinath, opener Murali Vijay who scored a brilliant double hundred in the Irani Cup, off-spinner R Ashwin —- all playing for Chennai Super Kings while wicketkeeper Dinesh Kaar­thick and left-arm spinners Pragyan Ojha are doing duty for the Mumbai Indians.

Similarly East Zone batting looks thin on experience as Bengal’s Manoj Tiwary and Wriddhiman Saha are also in South Africa for the CLT20. Tiwary is playing for Kolkata Knight Riders while Saha who played a major role in East’s triumph last time scoring back-to-back hundreds in the semifinal and final is representing Chennai Super Kings.

A lot will now depend on East skipper Nataraj Behera and his deputy Anushtup Majumdar. Anushtup had a good tour of New Zealand where he scored two half-centuries for India ‘A’ in the unofficial ‘Test’ matches.

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