Ranji Trophy: Can Maharashtra check Delhi's march?

Maharashtra will enter as underdog not only in terms of experience but more importantly on team composition as well.

Delhi's Pradeep Sangwan, who excelled against Assam not just with the ball but also by scoring a hundred, is all but ruled out due to a side strain.   -  Vivek Bendre

The last time Maharashtra played at the Wankhede Stadium, it had stunned domestic powerhouse and arch-rival Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy quarter-final in 2013-14. But one of the underachiever on the domestic circuit it will be far from being the favourite during its Group A tie against formidable Delhi, starting on Thursday.

Maharashtra will enter as underdog not only in terms of experience but more importantly on team composition as well. Kedar Jadhav, the seasoned professional, has passed on the captaincy baton to his younger friend Swapnil Gugale after being selected in India’s ODI squad against New Zealand.

Delhi, on the other hand, is hoping to continue in the same vein after starting its campaign with a victory and a bonus point against Assam in the season-opener. Gautam Gambhir, after hurting his shoulder during his comeback Test, will remain away from the squad for the second successive week, thus letting young Unmukt Chand donning the captain’s hat.

Delhi coach K. P. Bhaskar admitted that his team holds “a slight edge” but didn’t undermine the opponent. “They still have many quality players and it’s a side that is consistent. We are not taking them lightly. We will only continue to stick to our strengths,” Bhaskar told Sportstar on Wednesday.

In Jadhav’s absence, Gugale, along with Harshad Khadiwale, the opening batsman, has led the State sides in Under-16, Under-19, Under-22 and Under-25 but it remains to be seen if he can cope with the pressure on the big stage.

Gugale, along with coach Shrikant Kalyani, will also face the challenge of lifting the spirit of his teammates after having suffered a heavy defeat against Jharkhand last week. Gugale is hoping that the lucky charm of Delhi for himself and the venue of Wankhede will work for his team.

“I didn’t play that famous quarterfinal. But many of us did, and I hope the memories will bring out the best in them. Also, my big hundred against Delhi earned me a permanent place in Maharashtra’s team. I hope I can repeat that performance,” Gugale said.

Sangwan doubtful

Bhaskar has a minor concern to deal with. Pradeep Sangwan, who excelled against Assam not just with the ball but also by scoring a hundred, is all but ruled out due to a side strain. Bhaskar termed him a “doubtful starter”.

The teams (from)

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

Maharashtra: Swapnil Gugale (capt), Harshad Khadiwale, Rahul Tripathi, Ankeet Bawne, Naushad Shaikh, Vishant More, Shrikant Mundhe, Chirag Khurana, Satyajit Bachhav, Nikit Dhumal, Anupam Sanklecha, Shubham Kothari, Murtaza Trunkwala, Prayag Bhati, Mohsin Sayyed.

Umpires: Shahvir Tarapore, K. Srinath.

Match referee: Pranab Roy.