Ranji Trophy: Mumbai faces potent MP in semis

Mumbai and Madhya Pradesh lock horns in Tangi, a small town 20 km from Cuttack, in a Ranji Trophy semifinal beginning on Saturday.

Chandrakant Pandit (right), the coach of Mumbai, and Aditya Tare chat ahead of the Ranji Trophy. Tare has recovered from a finger injury and is likely to return in the playing XI for Mumbai.   -  V. Ganesan

In an intriguing match-up that could test nerves, Mumbai locks horns with Madhya Pradesh in Tangi, a sleepy small town 20 km from Cuttack in a Ranji Trophy semifinal beginning on Saturday.

The surface, with a distinct greenish tinge, should test batsmen from both sides. The ball could seam around on a pitch that looks hard with a covering of live grass. And the breeze blowing across the open DRIEMS College ground might encourage swing.

Mumbai has form and momentum but there are chinks that can be exploited. The side is without a stable opening partner for the in-form left-hander Akhil Herwadkar (863 runs in nine matches at 57. 53). The Madhya Pradesh seamers, led by Ishwar Pandey can, potentially, make inroads from one end.

Then, the groin injury to Dhawal Kulkarni leaves Mumbai without a potent pace partner for the incisive Shardul Thakur (32 wickets at 24.53). The attack could be stretched.

Will Madhya Pradesh, which last made the Ranji semifinal in 1998-99, take its chances? Old soldier Devendra Bundela, the Madhya Pradesh captain who was in that team 17 summers back, will surely realise the significance of this duel.

Tare likely to play

Mumbai, though, can still be a formidable force. In the influential Shreyas Iyer, Mumbai has a game-changer at No. 3. The stroke-filled Suryakumar Yadav and the promising Siddhesh Lad add weight to the line-up. The good news for Mumbai is the return of its skipper Aditya Tare, who has recovered from a finger injury. The busy wicket-keeper batsman practised with the team on Friday. “Tare will surely play,” said Mumbai coach Chandrakant Pandit.

The captain winning the toss will have to take an important decision. Batting first is laced with danger but if a team, overcoming moisture and movement, gets through the first two hours without too much damage, it can, from there on, proceed to put itself in a dominant position.

The Madhya Pradesh pace pack, led by Pandey, has in Puneet Datey and Chandrakant Sakure, two nippy young seamers. In the under-rated off-spinning all-rounder Jalaj Saxena (558 runs at 39.85 and 48 wickets at 21.45) the side has a reliable performer. Top-order batsmen Rajat Patidar and Aditya Shrivatsava, and Harpreet Singh and Bundela in the middle-order have been among the runs.

Much for Madya Pradesh could, however, hinge on wicket-keeper batsman Naman Ojha at No. 4. A big innings from this dedicated cricketer could be around the corner.

Mumbai may have to leave out one of its frontline spinners and Iqbal Abdullah’s five-wicket innings haul against Jharkhand in the quarterfinal and better batting ability could earn him the nod over the other left-arm spinner Vishal Dabolkar.

Talking about multi-dimensional cricketers, Abhishek Nayar’s calculated hitting and crafty seam bowling could make a difference for Mumbai. Madhya Pradesh, though, is quietly confident. “All the pressure is on Mumbai,” its skipper Bundela said.

The teams:

Mumbai: Aditya Tare (c & wk), Akhil Herwadkar, Bhavin Thakkar, Shreyas Iyer, Suryakumar Yadav, Siddhesh Lad, Abhishek Nayar, Nikhil Patil (jr), Vishal Dabolkar, Iqbal Abdullah, Shardul Thakur, Balwinder Singh Sandhu (jr), Badre Alam, Sufiyan Shaikh & Sagar Trivedi.

Madhya Pradesh: Devendra Bundela (c), Naman Ojha (wk), Aditya Shrivatsava, Jalaj Saxena, Rajat Patidar, Harpreet Singh, Ankit Dane, Ankit Sharma, Puneet Datey, Ishwar Pandey, Chandrakant Sakure, Anand Singh Bais, Mihir Hirwani, Jagdeep Baveja & Gourav Yadav.

Play starts at 9 a.m.