Visakhapatnam: A formidable South Zone team will start as clear favourites against defending champions East Zone in the semi-final of the Duleep Trophy starting from Sunday at the VDCA ground.
The 22-yard-strip at the Visakhapatnam Stadium has always assisted the batsmen and it won't be any different this time round. South Zone with likes of domestic heavyweights in skipper Abhinav Mukund, swashbuckling opener Robin Uthappa and the enormously talented Manish Pandey will like to indulge in a run-feast against a weak East Zone bowling attack which depends a lot of last season's top wicket-taker Ashok Dinda.
With Shami Ahmed not unavailable due to side strain sustained during A team's tour of New Zealand, Dinda will have Orissa seamer Basant Mohanty and allrounder Biplab Samantray for support. South's bowling attack will have the experienced Ranganath Vinay Kumar supported by his statemate Abhimanyu Mithun and left-arm spinner KP Appanna.
Both teams will however be missing a few key players due to the ongoing Champions League T20 tournament in South Africa. South Zone will miss their experienced run-machine Subramanium Badrinath, opener Murali Vijay who scored a brilliant double hundred in Irani Cup, off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin -- all playing for Chennai Super Kings while glovesman Dinesh Karthik is doing duty for Mumbai Indians.
Similarly East Zone batting looks thin on experience as Bengal's Manoj Tiwary and Wriddhiman Saha are also in South Africa for the CLT20. Manoj is playing for Kolkata Knight Riders while Wriddhiman who played a major role in East's triumph last time scoring back-to-back 100's semi-final and final is representing Chennai Super Kings.
A lot will now depend on skipper Nataraj Behera and his deputy Anushtup Majumdar. Anushtup had a good 'A' team tour of New Zealand where he scored two half-centuries in the unofficial 'Test' matches.