Vijay Hazare Elite Group A preview: Karnataka, Mumbai, Punjab among strong contenders

All Elite Group ‘A’ fixtures will be held in Bengaluru, at three venues – Alur grounds, M. Chinnaswamy Stadium and Just Cricket ground.

The Bengaluru leg begins with an exciting encounter at Alur grounds, with Ajinkya Rahane’s Mumbai (above) taking on Baroda. (File Photo)   -  K. Pichumani

Karnataka, Mumbai and Punjab are among the strong contenders in Elite Group ‘A’ of the Vijay Hazare Trophy one-day tournament, which commences, here, on Wednesday.

All Elite Group ‘A’ fixtures will be held in Bengaluru, at three venues – Alur grounds, M. Chinnaswamy Stadium and Just Cricket ground.

The Bengaluru leg begins with an exciting encounter at Alur grounds, with Ajinkya Rahane’s Mumbai taking on Baroda. Apart from Rahane, Mumbai boasts of two more international-quality batsmen in Shreyas Iyer and Prithvi Shaw. The Baroda team, which includes the likes of handy all-rounder Krunal Pandya and class batsman Deepak Hooda, is no pushover.

Also, in action is a powerhouse Punjab team, which starts as the clear favourite against Himachal Pradesh. The Punjab batting line-up consists of skipper Mandeep Singh, young guns Shubman Gill and Anmolpreet Singh, and IPL stars Manan Vohra and Gurkeerat Singh Mann. Though past his prime at 36, Yuvraj Singh has lost none of his appeal with fans across the country. The bowling attack, spearheaded by speedster Siddharth Kaul and leg-spinner Mayank Markande, is equally impressive.

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Goa and Maharashtra face each other in another match. In the absence of batting mainstay Kedar Jadhav, the focus shifts to Ankeet Bawane. India-A regular Bawane and batting partner Ruturaj Gaikwad powered Maharashtra to the semifinal last season, and the duo will look to deliver the goods once again.

Defending champion Karnataka opens its campaign against Maharashtra on Thursday. Opening batsman Mayank Agarwal - the highest run-scorer of the previous edition – poses a huge threat to rival bowlers. In the India-A outings that have preceded this tournament, Mayank showed that his insatiable appetite for runs has not been appeased. K.L. Rahul and Manish Pandey – both on international duty - may not be available for the initial stages of the tournament, but the likes of Mayank, R. Samarth and Karun Nair more than makeup for their absence. Hard-hitting all-rounder K. Gowtham can win a match with both bat and ball. Fast bowler Prasidh Krishna, whose recent impressive run earned him a call-up to the Indian team’s nets in Dubai, moves the ball sharply both ways. Skipper R. Vinay Kumar and A. Mithun, seasoned campaigners both, are well-versed with the demands of domestic cricket. Yere Goud and S. Arvind – the new coach and bowling coach, respectively – will look to hit the ground running with a few early wins.

The new qualification rules of the tournament, meanwhile, have raised a few eyebrows. From the 18 teams present in Elite Group 'A' and Elite Group 'B' (to be held in New Delhi), the top five sides from the two groups combined will progress to the quarterfinals. This could present an odd scenario, where four teams make the cut from one group alone.

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The teams (Elite Group ‘A’):

Baroda, Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Mumbai, Punjab, Railways, Vidarbha.

Wednesday’s matches (all at Alur grounds, all 9 a.m. start):

Baroda vs Mumbai, Goa vs Maharashtra, Himachal Pradesh vs Punjab