Just about 20 kilometres away from the Assam Cricket Association Stadium in Barsapara, which is the centre of attention ahead of the first ODI between India and Sri Lanka, stands the picturesque Amingaon Cricket Ground.
The quaint venue, which overlooks the mountains, was inaugurated in 2021 and has so far hosted BCCI-affiliated age-group tournaments. But it will make its First-Class debut on Tuesday, when domestic giant Mumbai squares off against Assam in a crucial Ranji Trophy fixture.
By the look of it, the surface appears to be a flat deck, with a run feast on the cards, and in the absence of its opener Yashasvi Jaiswal, who did not travel with the team due to acute gastroenteritis, Mumbai will be pinning its hopes on captain Ajinkya Rahane, Prithvi Shaw, Armaan Jaffer and Sarfaraz Khan - quite clearly Mumbai’s batting hero in this season - to get going.
During the training session on the eve of the game, Shaw and Jaffer batted in tandem in the nets, in an indication that they could open the innings, with Rahane elevating himself to No. 3. Though the team management wants to take a decision on the final XI ahead of the toss, coach Amol Muzumdar believes that Jaiswal’s absence could be an opportunity for someone else.
“Yashasvi is an integral part of the Mumbai side. Unfortunately, he has missed out on this game, but we do have replacements. If they can grab the opportunity, then nothing like it,” Muzumdar told Sportstar.
As the race for the knockouts intensifies, Mumbai - placed second in Elite Group B with 16 points - will be aiming for an outright win to stay in the hunt. Despite gaining a first-innings lead, it failed to grab full six points against Tamil Nadu at home in the previous outing, and taking lessons from that, the team will be hoping to make amends.
In a major boost, Shardul Thakur will be available for selection and ahead of the game, the India pacer bowled in the nets and looked in good shape.
Tushar Deshpande, who claimed six wickets against Tamil Nadu - including a five-for in the first innings - did not bowl on Monday, but coach Muzumdar said that it was just a way of managing his workload and insisted that he will be available for selection against Assam.
“We played for four days in the last game and it went down to the wire (till Friday) and we travelled here early in the morning (on Saturday), so it is about maintaining his workload and ensuring that everyone stays fresh,” the coach said.
With temperatures dipping in the morning, a cautious Mumbai wants to take it session by session, while host Assam hopes to spoil the visiting team’s plans. With 11 points, Assam is placed fifth on the points table and its chances of making it to the knockouts are bleak.
But the team believes that a ‘couple of good games’ can change its fortunes.
“The group is wide open. In cricket, you can’t predict what will happen next. A day can change a lot of things and just two wins can take us to the knockouts,” Assam head coach Trevor Gonsalves said.
The team will be missing the services of its regular captain Kunal Saikia, who is yet to recover from his hamstring injury, and in his absence the seasoned batter Gokul Sharma will lead the side. Akash Sengupta, who chipped in with a gritty 65 against Maharashtra, is also down with fever and won’t be available.
In the last four games, Assam played out three draws, while earning a win against Hyderabad. In its last game against Maharashtra, it bounced back despite Kedar Jadhav’s double-century.
The focus will once again be on Riyan Parag, who has had an impact in the tournament so far. Banking on his experience, Riyan stepped up when it mattered and against Mumbai, he needs to take more responsibility.
“Mumbai is just a name for us. We got the first innings lead against Delhi after losing four wickets early. Earlier, guys would look at the name and would commit harakiri under pressure against such a big team, but now that’s not the case anymore. Mumbai is now just a team,” Gonsalves added, buoyed with confidence.
Over to his boys to walk the talk.
Match starts at 8.30am
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