Chasing 174 runs, Gautam Gambhir led North Zone to a comprehensive eight-wicket win against South Zone in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Inter-zonal T20 tournament at the Wankhede stadium. While the batsman made an effortless 81 off 51 balls, he was complemented by Shikhar Dhawan (50 off 38) to put the side in the driver’s seat.
Gambhir milked Vinay Kumar for three boundaries off the first over to get NZ off to a flying start. He pulled the SZ captain for a boundary to set the tone for the innings. Dhawan too joined in the plundering runs off the SZ attack by cutting S Arvind for a four as they collected 15 off the fourth over. The pair continued to drive, pull and cut the bowlers as they carried the innings forward.
Continuing to take the attack to the SZ bowlers, Dhawan stepped out and lodged leg-spinner Swarup Kumar over deep midwicket for the first six of the innings. However, soon after reaching his half-century, the opening batsman stepped out to M Ashwin and was stumped.
With NZ comfortably poised on 103 for one in the 12th over, Rishabh Pant, another swashbuckling left-hand bat joined Gambhir in taking the chase forward. While the opener played a masterful knock, the youngster too kept the momentum going.
“From there on I had to play normal cricket and not try to do anything different. I was working on singles and doubles and if I got a loose ball I capitalised on it,” Pant said later. “I was just telling myself to time the ball and don’t try to hit the ball too hard,” he added.
While Pant too attacked with gusto, he slammed GH Vihari for a couple of sixes over the square-leg region to maintain the momentum. The Gambhir-Pant pair added 61 runs for the second wicket until S Arvind knocked the opener’s leg-stump and dislodged the bail. However, by then NZ were within 10 runs of victory. Pant then took the team to the finish line with a six.
Earlier, Tanmay Agarwal and Mayank Agarwal got SZ off to a good start after they were asked to bat by Harbhajan Singh. The pair had put together 51 runs until Tanmay was sent back by Mayank Dagar. Couple of overs later, Harbhajan accounted for Vishnu Vinod and seven runs later Dagar caught Mayank off his own bowling to leave SZ on 65 for three.
Ricky Bhui then continued to hold the innings together and found and able ally in Hanuma Vihari. The pair added 54 runs until Vihari handed a catch straight to long on off Ashish Nehra and departed for 18. After reaching his half-century, the middle-order bat hit the left-arm pacer to the covers and returned with the side on 150 for five. Along with V Shankar, skipper Vinay then hit 23 runs off the last 11 balls and took the team to 173 for five.