Confident Jharkhand take on Ranji stalwart Mumbai

While Mumbai will miss their regular skipper Aditya Tare due to a fractured finger, Jharkhand will miss Varun Aaron as he got married to his childhood friend on the eve of the quarter-final match.

Mumbai captain Abhishek Nayar practising in Mysuru ahead of their Ranji Trophy quarter-final against Jharkhand.   -  M.A. Sriram

The country is in the midst of a Twenty20 frenzy. Over the course of the next three months, the song and dance, which often accompanies the jamboree, is expected to drown out everything old and new, big and small.

It is against this backdrop that the 2015-16 Ranji Trophy knock-out matches – long-drawn five-day affairs that they are – start on Wednesday with 40-time champion Mumbai taking on Jharkhand at the SDNR Wadiyar Stadium here. It’s undeniably a discordant note, but so often as it is for the cricketing subaltern – not to be construed in a demeaning way – it is nothing but business as usual.

After having huffed and puffed last season, the current campaign has seen Mumbai at its dominating best. Led by the irrepressible Shreyas Iyer (930 runs at 71.53) and Shardul Thakur (28 wickets at 25.34), it finished with a spotless record in the group stages; one of only two teams to do so.

However, hamstrung as it will be in skipper and wicketkeeper-batsman Aditya Tare’s absence owing to a fractured finger, the test against Jharkhand – yet another of the success stories from the cricketing hinterland – might prove sterner than imagined.

After having lost its first two games, not many expected Jharkhand to qualify. But it did, even emphatically, registering three outright wins in its last three games.

“A very dangerous team,” said Mumbai captain Abhishek Nayar. “Any team which has come from plate [division] is quite confident. They have nothing to lose. In [Shahbaz] Nadeem, [Saurabh] Tiwary, [Ishank] Jaggi, they have guys who represented India ‘A’ or played some form at the highest-level.”

On its part, Jharkhand will have to make a fist of it without speedster Varun Aaron, who is away tying his nuptial knot. Skipper Nadeem though felt his side is capable of managing.

“In domestic cricket if you can bowl quick it’s always good,” he said. “Varun’s skill isn't dependent on the wicket. But the whole season we played only two matches with him. It’s become a bit of a habit to be playing without him.”

When asked about the wicket, Nadeem said it seemed a tad green. But Nayar, even after admitting to having had a close look, said “it would be tricky to comment.”

In a sense, Mysuru has been that sort of a place for Nayar. Back in 2009-10, at the same venue, Mumbai pipped Karnataka by six runs in a humdinger of a final; a match known as much for the cricketing exploits as much for his antics after it.

“It’s a special ground and holds lot of memories,” he said. “But it’s been very long now. Hopefully we can do something special and get that feeling again.”

Squads:

Mumbai: Abhishek Nayar (captain), Akhil Herwadkar, Shreyas Iyer, Suryakumar Yadav, Siddhesh Lad, Jay Bista, Dhawal Kulkarni, Shardul Thakur, Balwinder Singh Sandhu (Jr.), Badre Alam, Vishal Dabholkar, Nikhil Patil (Jr.), Iqbal Abdullah, Sufiyan Shaikh and Eknath Kerkar.

Jharkhand: S. Nadeem (captain), S.P. Gautam, Saurabh Tiwary, Ishank Jaggi, Virat Singh, Samar Quadri, Anand Singh, Kaushal Singh, Kumar Deobrat, Rahul Shukla, Jaskaran Singh, Ajay Yadav, Prakash Sheet, Vinayak Vikram, Prakash Munda and Ashish Kumar.