Gahunje pitch an intriguing factor ahead of Ranji final

The pitch in Pune, the venue of the Ranji Trophy final, will be the one used for the Twenty20 between India and Sri Lanka two weeks ago, and is expected to play out as a seamer-friendly one.

Mumbai will want much from its potent pace attack, led by Shardul Thakur (in picture) to exploit the conducive conditions at Gahunje. Thakur has 33 wickets in 10 matches in the tournament.   -  V. V. Subrahmanyam

Two weeks ago, the strip at the Maharashtra Cricket Association stadium at Gahunje was the talk of not just the town that once had a reputation of being pensioner’s paradise but the entire cricketing globe. On a wicket that appeared greener than even the Nagpur, 2004 or Ahmedabad, 2008 Test matches, India were skittled out for 101 against Sri Lanka in a Twenty20 international.

The moment MCA curator Pandurang Salgaocar confirmed that it would be the same 22-yard patch that would be used for the Ranji Trophy final between Mumbai and Saurashtra, to be played here from Wednesday, the wicket became the centre of attention.

As if to increase the curiosity around, Salgaonkar had the wicket under the wraps, covered with a layer of a mattresses. While Saurashtra boys had been slogging out since morning, when the Mumbai squad took to the field, Salgaonkar adhered to a request from Mumbai team management and offered the first glimpse of the playing surface to the 40-times champions.

So interested were the Mumbai players in the nature of the wicket that virtually the whole squad lined up to check it, as if they were gathered for flag hoisting. The turf bore a layer of live grass as thick as, if not thicker than, on display on February 9.

The bowler-friendly pitch will be music to the ears of members of the in-form pace attack of both the sides. While Ravindra Jadeja spelt doom on spin-friendly surfaces at home early on in Saurashtra’s remarkable season, Jaydev Unadkat-led pace attack has played an increasingly bigger role in their sojourn to the summit clash after starting in bottom-most rung of the tournament.

Mumbai reliant on pacers

Mumbai, on the other hand, have relied heavily on pace bowlers this season. Experienced Dhawal Kulkarni’s return to the side after missing last week’s semifinal due to a hamstring niggle has given a fillip to Shardul Thakur’s pace and Balwinder Singh Sandhu’s swing bowling.

With an ever-increasing mercury levels, Salgaonkar may have been forced to keep a grass cover to help the wicket bind for five days. However, if the wicket continues to wear a lush green look on the morning of the match, the match may not even last its duration.

No wonder Saurashtra coach Shitanshu Kotak was wary of the wicket. “I hope the toss doesn’t turn out to be decisive factor,” Kotak said after overseeing his team’s four-hour session.

Kotak’s Mumbai counterpart, Chandrakant Pandit, was happy with the look of the strip. “It looks a good sporting wicket. I can’t comment on what happened in the T20 (between India and Sri Lanka) but this looks a nice, sporting wicket,” Pandit told reporters while his wards were warming up for a training session that lasted almost three hours.

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