Stand-in opener Virat Singh and captain Manoj Tiwary struck unbeaten half centuries and put on a rollicking century stand for the third wicket to enable East Zone trounce star-studded North Zone by eight wickets in the Mushtaq Ali T20 Inter-Zonal league match in Mumbai on Thursday.
The victory at the Wankhede Stadium was the third in a row for East who now just have to beat West in their last round robin game on February 18 morning to sew up the title.
The 19-year-old Virat slammed a superb, unbeaten 74 in 48 balls and put on 149 runs in just 87 balls with Tiwary, who cracked 75 not out in 43 balls, to guide East to 162 for 2 in 16.3 overs, chasing North’s 159 for 9.
Virat filled in for Jharkhand state-mate Ishan Kishan following the latter’s release to play for India A against the visiting Australian team in the warm-up game at the nearby Brabourne Stadium from Friday.
If East lose the game against the hosts and if Central Zone, their lone rival for the crown at the end of the penultimate day of the competition, beat South Zone on Saturday afternoon, there will be a tie on points (12 each) and the net run-rate will come into the picture to decide the winners.
After their third win on Thursday, East were sitting pretty on 12 points with a net run-rate of plus 1.185, while Central, who have 8 points to their credit after two wins and a loss, are second with a net run-rate of minus 0.064.
The other three teams are out of the fray as far as the title is concerned. In the first match of the day South Zone, powered by opener Mayank Agarwal’s 70 off 36 balls, notched their first win of the tournament by defeating West Zone by five wickets.
Riding on Agarwal’s breezy knock, South overhauled West’s total of 140 for 9 by making 141 for 5 in 17.4 overs. In the East-North afternoon contest, the latter, without Rishabh Pant, who has also been released to play for India A, were restricted to less than 160 which was not par for the course even on the worn-out track.
Yuvraj Singh threatened to take the game away from East with a flurry of four sixes in his 24-ball 38 before he was induced by Amit Verma to edge behind after having smacked the bowler for a huge six in the same over.
Having lost openers Shikhar Dhawan, Gautam Gambhir and Unmukht Chand, playing his first game in place of Pant, with 85 on board in the 12th over, North needed Yuvraj to play a bigger knock but it was not to be.
The rest of the batting caved in against left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha, who grabbed three wickets.
East started poorly by losing Shreevats Goswami and Wednesday’s batting hero Ishank Jaggi cheaply to be in trouble at 13 for 2 after two overs before Virat and Tiwary pulled them out of the mire and then started to dominate the bowling attack.
Virat struck 9 fours and 2 sixes, while Tiwary slammed five sixes and as many fours as they pulverised the North bowling attack to guide East home well inside the allotted overs.
Earlier, South won the toss and put the opposition in and used the early morning conditions to trouble the hosts who never got going at full throttle and also lost wickets at regular intervals to be 81 for 4 at the end of 13 overs.
Deepak Hooda struck a 21-ball 32, hitting two sixes and one four, to give some momentum but his departure at 112 in the 16th over set West back although Irfan Pathan helped the total reach 140 by making 26 in 17 balls.
The score was just not enough once West failed to strike early blows as opener Mayank Agarwal, who hit 9 fours and a couple of sixes, anchored the innings to a nicety. The Karnataka batsman and Vishnu Vinod (36 in 20 balls) gave a good start to the chase by adding 48 runs in 5 overs.
Mayank Agarwal then took over the attacking reins after Kerala’s Vinod was dismissed by Mumbai’s 45-year-old leggie Pravin Thambe. He stood firm even though South lost the wickets of Dinesh Karthik, Ricky Bhui and Hanuma Vihari cheaply, apart from losing captain for the match Vijay Shankar who retired hurt after being hit on the knee, and fell only when his side was one shot short of the target.
This was West’s second loss in three games and they have a match in hand against East Zone on the 18th, while South take on Central in the last tie of the tournament, on Saturday, after Friday’s rest day.
West Zone 140 for 9 (D Hooda 32; C V Milind 3 for 41, M Ashwin 2 for 24, V Shankar 2 for 21) lost to South Zone 141 for 5 in 17.4 overs (V Vinod 36, M Agarwal 70).
North Zone 159 for 9 (Yuvraj Singh 38; P Ojha 3 for 33, A Verma 2 for 18) lost to East Zone 162 for 2 in 16.3 overs (Virat Singh not out 74, M Tiwary not out 75).