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|Manhas turns unlikely hero, North clinches title|
Monday, March 8 2004 17:55 Hrs (IST)
Manhas grabbed three for 15 with his part-time off spin to bundle out East Zone for 349 on the fifth and final day and help his team claim the Zonal title for a record 16th time.
Amit Bhandari, who had toiled hard and had been luckless for the major part of the match, chipped in with three for 71 as he polished off the East tail.
East, who were very much within the reach of their maiden title when they needed 196 runs with seven wickets in hand at the start of the day, were undone by the loss of three wickets in the space of 20 runs before lunch. When first innings centurion Kiran Powar (97) dug out a simple catch to Dinesh Mongia at cover in the third over after the break, the trophy had slipped out of East's hands.
Powar missed out on century in each innings after being dismissed for 97 but his story was very much that of his team as well.
In a match that saw the pendulum swing from one side to the other constantly, East had good performances from more than one player but lost .The wicket of Devang Gandhi, coming in at the fall of nightwatchman Sourashish Lahiri, was a big blow to the visitors' hopes.
The captain looked edgy from the first ball he faced and his wild heave off Dinesh Mongia, to under edge a good catch to wicketkeeper Ajay Ratra, was only in keeping with his form of the day.
Manhas then struck his first blow when he broke through the defence of Shiv Sunder Das, who came in at number seven after nursing his calf muscle tear during North's second innings, off the very first ball.
Those two wickets, half an hour from lunch, changed the complexion of the game that seemed to be heading towards a triumph for East when the overnight pair of Powar and Lahiri blunted the seamers.
The two played with abundant confidence and to a plan, working the ball through the gaps. Lahiri, with 27 from 85 balls, was beginning to upset North's plans, and his six off Mongia over midwicket was the highpoint of East dominance.
Sarandeep Singh (2-71) then gave the crucial breakthrough when he induced a bat-pad catch from Lahiri to end the 64-run association for the fourth wicket.
After Powar's dismissal, however, East batting disintegrated rapidly. Utpal Chatterjee, who had rolled his arms to bring the team back into the match, was gone for a duck.
And although Laxmi Ratan Shukla was known for his lusty hitting, the fortunes were not in his favour on Monday. Debasish Mohanty provided some pyrotechniques but those were the sparksof a dying lamp.
East Zone looking for a historic win