Ranji Trophy: Battle of the equals in a star-studded affair

While Tamil Nadu is bolstered with the return of all-rounders Vijay Shankar and B. Aparajith from the India A duty, Mumbai is strengthened with the inclusion of batsmen Prithvi Shaw, Shreyas Iyer and pace spearhead Dhawal Kulkarni.

Tamil Nadu's Ravichandran Ashwin during a practice session at the Bandra-Kurla Complex on the eve of TN's Ranji Trophy match against Mumbai.   -  Prashant Nakwe

They have faced each other four times, including a semi-final, in the last three seasons. As Mumbai and Tamil Nadu would face off each other in a Group C tie of the Ranji Trophy at the MCA Sharad Pawar Cricket Academy from Tuesday, the stakes would perhaps be the highest in any of their previous outings in the recent past.

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Not just from the respective teams' perspective but also from some of the key individuals. Both the teams have been bolstered by the return of its regulars. While the visiting team will be bolstered with the return of all-rounders Vijay Shankar and B. Aparajith from the India A duty, Mumbai is strengthened with the inclusion of batsmen Prithvi Shaw, Shreyas Iyer and pace spearhead Dhawal Kulkarni who were plying their trade for the Board President's XI against the touring New Zealanders.

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No wonder then that Tamil Nadu, with the availability of R. Ashwin and Murali Vijay, will be hoping to turn its tottering campaign around in the next four days. Despite facing relatively weaker sides in the group, Abhinav Mukund's boys garnered just four points in its first two games. Mumbai, with the return of captain Aditya Tare, are placed better off, having earned three points from its season-opener last week.

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Some of the key individuals from both the teams will be desperate to put in a sterling performance that would themselves and their team in good stead for the hectic few months lying ahead. On the eve of the match, Iyer earned a maiden call-up to India's Twenty20 squad. The man for all formats for Mumbai over the last three seasons will be keen to celebrate his selection by succeeding against offie R. Ashwin, one of the most successful spinners in world cricket.

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Similarly, young opener Prithvi Shaw will be eager to take another step in his flourishing career by facing a top-notch spinner.

Seasoned India Test opener M. Vijay was recalled to the national squad after recovering from a troubled wrist. He will be looking forward to getting into the groove by getting the better of Kulkarni-led Mumbai attack.  And captain Abhinav will be hoping to get back into the national reckoning with a strong show.

While the rest of his India team-mates, barring another Test specialist Cheteshwar Pujara, were conquering series in different continents over the last six months, Vijay was going through a rigorous rehab after a wrist injury that had sidelined him after India's series against Australia in March.

As a result, on a day he marked a return to India's Test squad for the home series against Sri Lanka, more than thinking about the overseas on challenges lying ahead, the seasoned opener was hoping for spending quality time at the crease.

“I have played four to five games this season after my injury, so obviously am looking forward for the game here now. Having some batting time will be great for me. Mentally I have always been up there and it is just my injuries and stuff like that. I have worked enough on that, now I have to go out there and play freely leaving pressure behind,” Vijay said.

Vijay may have tasted success while batting in South Africa but he isn't thinking too far ahead of a tour starting in January. “It was a long time back and those are memories after retirement maybe we can talk about it. Now I have a lot of things at stake personally as well as a team, so we as a bunch are very hungry and now you can see it on the field. I believe in fighting to the last minute so it is going to be a good challenge for us as unit and individually,” he said.

It would be interesting to see if the Test stars sizzle in the domestic powerhouse's own backyard.

The teams (from):

Mumbai: Aditya Tare (Capt, wk), Suryakumar Yadav (Vice-capt), Akhil Herwadkar, Prithvi Shaw, Jay Bista, Siddhesh Lad, Abhishek Nayar, Vijay Gohil, Akash Parkar, Royston Dias, Minad Manjrekar, Aditya Dhumal and Sufiyan Shaikh (wk).

Tamil Nadu: Abhinav Mukund (Capt), B Indrajith (Vice-capt), M. Vijay, M. Kaushik Gandhi, B. Aparajith, Vijay Shankar, N. Jagadeesan (wk), M.S. Washington Sundar, R. Sai Kishore, Rahil Shah, K. Vignesh, R. Ashwin, V. Yo Mahesh, L. Vignesh, R. Rohith (wk) and V. Ganga Sridhar Raju.