Yuvraj Singh's India Red side was no match for Gautam Gambhir's Blues as it succumbed to a massive 355-run defeat in the final of inaugural day-night Duleep Trophy tournament at Greater Noida Sports Complex.
The gigantic 337-run first innings lead made sure that the Blues had it easy against a side with a weaker batting line-up. Blues benefited from the presence of a reinvigorated Cheteshwar Pujara and an in-form skipper in Gambhir.
In contrast, the Reds were lightweight. Openers Abhinav Mukund and Shikhar Dhawan were the only big names with the bat, and both failed. In the end, the title clash was reduced to a battle of batting specialists against all-rounders, with Ravindra Jadeja turning the game on its head.
Overall, the Duleep Trophy was quite a ride. It was historic, captivating and typified everything that’s so special about India’s domestic cricket. With announcement of India’s Test squad for New Zealand series also coinciding with the tournament, there was added focus on the proceedings.
India's tryst with pink ball
The BCCI had earlier planned to conduct its first Pink ball Test during the New Zealand series. With this in mind, the Duleep Trophy format was altered as an experiment. From the initial evidence, however, it's clear that the Indian board and players have not really bitten the Pink ball bullet.
Pujara was possibly the first big name to openly disapprove the pink ball experiment. The 'Rajkot Run Machine' said that it was difficult to spot wrist spinners and googly bowlers under lights. Yuvraj Singh also claimed that most batsmen struggled to pick wrist spinners with the pink ball.
Winning skipper Gambhir said he didn't find trouble picking the ball, but termed himself a 'traditionalist' to denounce introduction of pink ball Test. According to him, such experiments should be restricted to T20 cricket.
End of the road for Yuvraj Singh?
The star left-hander's hopes of making an India comeback in Test cricket virtually evaporated with his poor show in the tournament. Yuvi had earlier stated that he still had hopes of playing five-day matches for India as it was difficult to break in to the limited-overs teams.
While the southpaw was part of India's Asia Cup and World T20 campaigns, he didn't feature in the line-ups against Zimbabwe and West Indies. But with age catching up and limited chances coming his way, one of India's favourite cricketers may well consider himself done, at least when it comes to Test cricket.
The 34-year-old posted woeful numbers right through the tournament. Yuvi scored 17, 21, 4 and 10 and went wicketless in the 2016 edition of the Duleep Trophy. Though he won't publicly admit it, the World Cup winner now knows his career is all but over.
Kuldeep Yadav grows in stature
One of the players who made a big impression at the tournament was Kuldeep Yadav. The chinaman bowler, aided by the lights and the pink ball, foxed his opponents in almost every match. The 21-year-old did the trick for his side with 17 wickets in the tournament.
For the record, he even bagged a six-wicket haul against India Green. Kuldeep's biggest problem so far has been the lack of consistency in domestic cricket. Should he retain his current form for a season or two, Yadav could soon find himself donning India colors next.
Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni — both keen talent appreciators — will be delighted at Kuldeep's progress. A quality chinaman bowling in tandem with Ravichandran Ashwin is something any skipper will look forward to, irrespective of the format.
Gautam Gambhir makes India case
Gambhir was the most talked about player at the Duleep Trophy. The Delhi left-hander was in sparkling form with bat right through the tournament. A potential call-up to the Indian side was obviously an added motivation for Gambhir.
Among all the senior players, it was him who had a realistic chance of making it to the national team for the series against New Zealand. While there was no call-up, Gambhir's consistency made sure he found a mention during the selection committee meeting.
On the bright side, his grit and determination was widely appreciated by fans, who even attacked Kohli for picking Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan over him. Gambhir ended with a trophy and scores of 77, 90, 59, 94, 36.
Ravindra Jadeja flexes muscles again
The left-arm spinner showed why he is a certainty in India's Test side, at least at home, with yet another sterling display in the Duleep Trophy. Despite breaking into the Indian team several years ago, the Saurashtra cricketer is yet to command a place in the side.
Jaddu is often used by the team management depending on the conditions on offer. But there is no doubt over his ability to pick wickets when his red cherry lands on helping Indian tracks. The 27-year-old reserved his best performance for the big final, crippling Yuvraj's India Red with a 10-wicket haul.
Kane Williamson and his side must have watched the left-arm spinner closely. And the Kiwis will not take the 27-year-old spinner lightly when the two teams meet in Kanpur. For Indian fans, Jadeja and Ashwin hunting in packs on home soil is always a welcome sight.