Batting-heavy Delhi favourites against Assam

Coach KP Bhaskar has the services of new skipper Ishant Sharma and the experienced Gautam Gambhir this time around but lost the talented Rishabh Pant (to India A duties).

With the new seven-team, four-group structure, teams get two games less to book their spot in the quarterfinals.   -  AKHILESH KUMAR

Exactly a year ago, at the Reliance Stadium in Vadodara, Assam and Delhi kicked-off their Ranji Trophy campaigns against each other as the tournament briefly flirted with the neutral-venue experiment. It saw Delhi win by a massive innings and 83 runs for the perfect beginning to its season, one that did not have the expected ending though.

A lot has changed since then. But Delhi would be keen to replicate that ideal start when it takes on Assam at the Feroz Shah Kotla ground here on Friday, as the Ranji Trophy returns to the comfort of home-and-away format for the league matches. There are other tweaks as well.

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With the new seven-team, four-group structure, teams get two games less to book their spot in the quarterfinals. With only top-two from each group qualifying, it would be harder for teams to get away with draws or first-innings leads. Delhi would know well, having missed out on a last-eight spot by a single point last year — losing by just four runs in its last outing.

Coach KP Bhaskar has the services of new skipper Ishant Sharma and the experienced Gautam Gambhir this time around but lost Rishabh Pant (to India A duties) and the pace duo of Pradeep Sangwan (to surgery) and Parvinder Awana. “We have Anuj Rawat as the wicketkeeper. He played India Under-19 as well, so it's good to promote someone like him to make his debut for the Delhi team,” Sharma said.

The Delhi batting unit that includes the consistent Nitish Rana, Unmukt Chand, Himmat Singh and Milind Kumar gives the host an upper hand. Navdeep Saini, Vikas Tokas and Manan Sharma would be the key in the bowling department. Assam are clearly the underdogs in this contest.

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The visitor would miss the services of experienced batsman KB Arun Karthik, who has moved to Kerala, and spinner J. Syed Mohammed.

With a new coach in Lalchand Rajput, Assam — which finished at the bottom of Group B last season — would hope to put up a better fight.

“We are without any professional player this year, but we are ready for the challenge. The team wants to showcase its local talent. I like challenges. I have told the boys not to worry about the result. They should be seen to make an effort,” said Rajput.

Squads

Delhi: Ishant Sharma (C), Gautam Gambhir, Unmukt Chand, Dhruv Shorey, Nitish Rana, Milind Kumar, Rishabh Pant, Manan Sharma, Navdeep Saini, Vikas Tokas, Vikas Mishra, Himmat Singh, Kunal Chandela, Pulkit Narang, Kulwant Khejroliya.

Assam: Gokul Sharma (C), Pritam Debnath, Abu Nechim, Arup Das, Krishna Das, Pritam Das, Pallavkumar Das, Rishav Das, Swarupam Purkayastha, Rahul Singh, Sibsankar Roy, Kunal Saikia, Tarjinder Singh, Amit Sinha, Wasiqur Rahman.