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In the zone – West

Axar Patel reflects on a good domestic season for Gujarat

Axar Patel has been in the Indian team since 2014. While playing for India at the highest level has certainly helped him grow, the experience has also benefitted his state team, Gujarat in domestic cricket. He was instrumental in helping his home team win the Vijay Hazare Trophy in the ongoing 2015-16 with some miserly spells.

At a young age, Axar has become one of the key players for Gujarat. As the season enters its last leg, he can look back with satisfaction on how well the team has done especially in the shorter formats of the game.

Axar said, “We have a good side for limited overs and T20 cricket as we have all-rounders (in the team) who can finish the game. I was playing at No. 7 there. We had a good balanced side and have done very well this year. We won the Vijay Hazare Trophy. We did well in T20 tournament (Syed Mushtaq Ali), but were out (of the competition) after one defeat.” He pointed out that with the presence of the experienced players, the youngsters too have grown and the team now knows how to go about their business in the big games.

Axar, who was part of the ODI team against Australia, joined his state team in Kanpur for the Deodhar Trophy immediately on returning from the tour. “Obviously, there is passion, and the more you play, the more you learn. No match is big or small. You get to learn irrespective of whether you win or lose,” he said about his participation. For him, it is important to adjust and play matches in such situations. “It was good for me that I played there (Kanpur) as I got to know what I have to do (to improve and learn),” he says.

There is keenness in Axar to not only perform well, but also learn with each passing game. The spinner continues to work on different aspects of his game as he works his way forward.

This season, Axar has also added some flight to his armoury. He explains that the batsmen observe you and you need to have more tricks in your bag. You need to have a Plan B which will help you break predictability he explains while discussing his bowling. “You cannot bowl only one way. You need to do different things as the batsman sees what you do (and works on negotiating you). I back my strengths — like the armer. But, I also try to flight and beat them with some turn. If the batsman gets to know you bowl one way, what is my Plan B? So, I keep thinking about that Plan B and I want to try different deliveries,” he elaborated.

Armaan Jaffer, Jay Bista shine for Mumbai U-23

Armaan Jaffer, who has been in excellent form this season especially in the longer format of the game, smashed 181 to help Mumbai post a big score against Maharashtra in the Under-23, Col CK Nayudu semi-final on returning from the Under-19 ICC Cricket World Cup.

The young batsman, who had scored three consecutive double-centuries for the Mumbai Under-19s in the Cooch Behar Trophy, 2015-16 had displayed his skills with a couple of good knocks in Bangladesh as well. He had showcased his ability to stay in the middle and guide the innings, while trying to maintain the flow of runs in the matches during the CWC.

On return Armaan followed up the semi-final performance with a 60-run knock in the ongoing final against Madhya Pradesh U-23s as Mumbai posted 577 in the first innings. While there were useful contributions by the line-up to help the team build a formidable total, it was Jay Bista’s double-century that helped them to a mountainous score.

Bista, who had made his debut for Mumbai’s senior side earlier in the season, has led the charge for the Mumbai U-23s. In the quarter-final against Baroda U-23s, Bista smashed 128 as Mumbai chased 279 to win the game. His 217 runs in the final takes his runs tally to over 1000 runs in the tournament at an impressive average. These performances will hold the batsman in good stead as he looks to make his mark in the senior domestic circuit in the coming seasons. 

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In the zone – North

Punjab all-rounder, Abhishek Sharma eyes success at U-19 level

It is not every season that a 16-year-old amasses as many as 1,200 runs and also claims 57 wickets in a national level cricket tournament. Amritsar-born Abhishek Sharma has done just that. His extraordinary effort was icing on the cake as the all-rounder captained Punjab to a title win and helped retain the Under-16, Vijay Merchant Trophy.

“The season turned out to be very good for me. I took each match as a challenge that tested my skills on the field. I am happy that I could contribute to my team. It was special to win the tournament. When the team was felicitated by the state association, secretary MP Pandove told me to keep up the good work and focus at the U-19 level. And that is my aim. I would like to keep the good form going and train harder for further challenges,” said youngster while reflecting on the season.

After his success at the U-16 level, Abhishek, who learnt his early lessons at the famous Gandhi cricket ground in Amritsar from his father Raj Kumar Sharma, is turning in to a skillful cricketer and is considered as a talent to watch out for. Having impressed District (Amritsar) coaches and selectors, Abhishek has played for the District U-19s and senior teams even when he was just 14 and 15 years old. He has been included in the Punjab U-19 skills and fitness camp and has also made it to the Zonal Cricket Academy U-19 camp that will take place in April.

Speaking about the challenges lying ahead, Abhishek said, “I am just 16, I have a long way to go. Also, I am not in any hurry; things will happen when the right time comes. Right now my focus is to concentrate on delivering the goods at the U-19 level for Punjab and also the North Zone. I will work hard and see that I don’t lose focus. If I have built a reputation, I won’t let it go. Maintaining fitness and working on developing more skills would be a very important aspect in the coming months for me.”

A student of Class XI at the Delhi Public School in Amritsar, Abhishek is attending a U-19 state camp being held under coach, Munish Bali in Patiala. After that he will attend the ZCA camp along with Shubhman Gill, Mayank Markande, Akul Pandove and Rishab Bharat.

Harleen Deol to lead U-23 North Zone team in ODI inter-zonals

After a successful stint in the U-19 two-day inter-zonal matches, Himachal Pradesh all-rounder Harleen Deol has been named the captain of the U-23 North Zone team that will compete in the inter-zonal one-day matches. The tournament will be held in Raipur from February 16.

North Zone will take on East Zone in their opening match of the tournament. The 17-year-old all-rounder, who used to play for Punjab before shifting to Himachal for better opportunities, was the highest scorer with 209 runs in the U-19 two-day inter-zonal tournament held in January. While she opens the batting for her team, Deol, also bowls leg-spin and has taken eight wickets in four matches. Although, North Zone finished at the fourth spot in the tournament, she made an impression on the zonal selectors with her all-round skills which earned her the captaincy of the U-23 North Zone outfit for the inter-zonal tournament.

With plenty of grass on the pitches, the Raipur stadium ground is likely to assist the seamers more than the spinners. North Zone will bank on its seamers, Soni Yadav and Mansi Joshi to provide them with early breakthroughs. Meanwhile in the batting department, Deol and Taniya Bhatia will have to spend quality time at the crease and post big knocks.

“My confidence got a great boost playing in the U-19 tournament recently in Ranchi. I have been training hard and staying focused. This is a time to score big knocks and make my presence felt. I want to do well in the upcoming U-23 one-day inter-zonals followed by senior one-day inter-zonal tournament. It is also important to contribute with both - bat and ball these days and present yourself as a genuine all-rounder,” said Deol, who will be the vice-captain of the North Zone senior women’s team that will take part in the inter-zonal tournament later this month. The opener had hammered 116 runs against East Zone in the second innings of the match during the U-19 inter-zonal match in Ranchi.

Former cricketer, Navdeep Singh to be on-field umpire for women ODIs

Former Punjab left-arm spinner, Navdeep Singh has become the fourth umpire from the state to be a part of international cricket after Jasbir Singh, Dr Manjit Singh Mahal and the late Prof R C Sharma. The 44-year-old was the third umpire in the 1st ODI between India Women and Sri Lanka Women in Ranchi and will be on the on-field in the remaining two ODIs. He recently returned after umpiring in the Ranji Trophy quarter-final match between Mumbai and Jharkhand at Mysore.

Singh, who played close to a decade for Punjab has taken 128 wickets in 44 first-class games. He was a member of the Duleep Trophy-winning North Zone team in 1999 and is an employee with AG Punjab in Chandigarh.

Singh was earlier named the fourth umpire in the India vs Australia match in Pune in 2014. He has been a consistent umpire at the domestic level since 2008 and has so far officiated in 25 first-class matches. 

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