North-East show fight on Duleep Trophy debut, get time with Rahane as reward

After North-East Zone drew their first-ever Duleep Trophy game, against a powerful West Zone side, they got an opportunity to interact with Ajinkya Rahane, who had been impressed with the fight shown by their players. After a near-20-minute interaction, almost all of the North-East Zone players clicked pictures with Rahane, who also signed the bats of some of their players.

Hokaito Zhimomi, the North-East Zone captain, was pleased to have earned the respect of Rahane and Co., and said that learning from the former India captain was a “big achievement” for his side.

After double-hundreds from Rahane and Yashasvi Jaiswal and a century from Prithvi Shaw propelled West Zone to 590 for 2 declared, North-East Zone’s top order caved in against Jaydev Unadkat’s swing and seam. However, from 20 for 4, they worked their way to 235, lasting 81.5 overs. Zhimomi ground out 32 off 154 balls while Ankur Malik made a more aggressive 81 off 95 balls, including 13 fours. Malik was particularly severe on left-arm fingerspinner Shams Mulani, who was the highest wicket-taker in last season’s Ranji Trophy, with 45 strikes in six matches at an average of 16.75. West Zone batted again, despite a 355-run lead, and were on 268 for 5 when the game ended.

“It [Rahane’s pep talk] was about the positives and working on our skills,” Zhimomi said. “He also said we came back strong after losing too many wickets. We were 20 for 4 and from there, we scored 200-plus runs and they didn’t expect that, it seems. We batted for almost 90 [81.5] overs and he appreciated that. In the second innings, our bowling was much better and it was an improved performance.

“It is a big achievement playing against West Zone and playing against the likes of Rahane, Unadkat, Jaiswal and Prithvi Shaw. Lots of big names in their team. We see them on TV and playing against them is a motivation for us. I hope the boys learn a lot from this tournament and they were also discussing it. Now, we know where we stand and we have to work towards [getting better].”

“A bit of nerves, I guess, playing for the first time against these teams [in the Duleep Trophy]. But we did come back well, in terms of batting. We lost early wickets, but lots of positives from this game”

Hokaito Zhimomi, North-East Zone captain

Zhimomi, though, cautioned the North-East players against getting too far ahead of themselves and insisted that they needed to upgrade their skills if they were to compete with the top-ranked teams in domestic cricket.

“It’s too early to say [that we are ready for the next level]. We have learnt a lot and it’s not easy to get runs at this level,” Zhimoni said. “You need to work very hard on your skills and temperament is very important – you have to wait for the loose deliveries. They are always there [at you], they come with a plan and they stick to the plan.

“So, we have to counter that and the level is higher, so we have to work hard on skills and I hope next year we come back stronger. Still 200-plus runs against this West Zone team is a big achievement [for us] and making them field for almost 90 overs is an achievement for us.”

Zhimomi cited bowling as an area that needed improvement after they failed to make use of the new ball, having won the toss, under the overcast Chennai skies. Early wickets were significant with the Kookaburra ball getting soft and not doing much after 20 overs.

“We won a very crucial toss actually. The weather was conducive to bowling and the wicket was doing a bit, but we couldn’t bowl in the right areas actually on the first day,” Zhimomi said. “A bit of nerves, I guess, playing for the first time against these teams [in the Duleep Trophy]. But we did come back well, in terms of batting. We lost early wickets, but lots of positives from this game.”

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