Depleted Delhi faces Assam in Vadodara

Delhi is set to take on Assam, which had defeated it last year, in its first match in the Ranji Trophy season without some of its leading stars.

In the absence of Gautam Gambhir (left), Unmukt Chand will captain Delhi.   -  Ritu Raj Konwar

This season’s Ranji Trophy begins on a day that could well go down in the history of Indian cricket as the one when the judicial power sentenced the mighty Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to an existence of lesser authority.

Away from the courtroom battles, neutral venues are preparing the war zones of the far less magnitude for the teams staking their claims to be the next national champion. Among the teams looking to build on the gains from the last season is Assam. Having beaten teams like Delhi and Punjab on its way to the semifinals, Assam had raised the bar to a point which will be difficult to clear this season.

At the IPCL ground here, Assam starts its campaign against a depleted Delhi that will be eager to avenge the five-wicket loss suffered at Guwahati in November last. Delhi, without Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan, Ishant Sharma and Gautam Gambhir, looks as beatable as Assam proved it was in the last meeting.

But it will be not be wise to consider Assam the favourite. As coach Sunil Joshi, the former India and Karnataka left-arm spinner, said, “This is another match, another day and another venue. No doubt, it feels good to go into this match knowing that Delhi is without some of its leading names, but we have to play to our potential to get a good result over the next four days.”

Assam, with three professionals – batsmen Arun Karthik, Amit Verma and all-rounder Syed Mohammad – playing key roles last season, has a number of lesser-known local talents eager to perform.

The team’s pace options - Krishna Das, who scalped 50 wickets last season, Arup Das and Abu Nechim looks impressive. No wonder coach Joshi, in charge of Jammu and Kashmir last season when the underdog stunned the mighty Mumbai, is confident of the available resources.

Transition phase

Delhi, also under a new coach K. P. Bhaskar, will be looking to play to its reputation. The absence of those on national duty brings opportunities to the talented players to catch the attention of the national selectors.

“I feel the team going through a transition phase,” says Bhaskar, one of the finest batsmen in domestic cricket not to play for the country. “I'm telling the players to seize the opportunity and contribute. Each one has to back the other and take collective responsibility, day after day, through the season.”

Having been the coach of Tripura, Bhaskar has a fair idea about the talent in the Assam squad. “They have a balanced team with a good pace attack and the professionals forming the cream of batting. We have to take it session by session. Patience is going to be the key.”

The teams (from):

Delhi: Unmukt Chand (captain), Mohit Sharma, Dhruv Shorey, Nitish Rana, Milind Kumar, Rishab Pant, Manan Sharma, Pradeep Sangwan, Parvinder Awana, Pulkit Narang, Navdeep Saini, Vaibhav Rawal, Pawan Suyal, Vikas Tokas and Varun Sood.

Assam: Gokul Sharma (captain), Pallavkumar Das, Rahul Hazarika, Amit Verma, Arun Karthik, Tarjinder Singh, Syed Mohammad, Swarupam Purkayastha, Kunal Saikia, Arup Das, Krishna Das, Sibsankar Roy, Abu Nechim, Rishav Das and Dhiraj Goswami.