Vijay Hazare: Nine teams ready for their first taste of first-class cricket

Sikkim, Mizoram, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Bihar, Puducherry and Uttarakhand will be participating in the Plate Group of Vijay Hazare Trophy

Arunachal Pradesh players attend a training session at the GS Patel Stadium in Nadiad.   -  Special Arrangement

For the nine new teams which will enter the first-class cricketing circuit for the first time, the Vijay Hazare Trophy will be a test of character.

But they will also be making history.

It is this spirit that’s driving the players from Sikkim, Mizoram, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Bihar, Puducherry and Uttarakhand. Over the years, the states have struggled to come so far, and when the action finally gets underway on Wednesday, the nine teams —participating in the Plate Group—will be hoping to put up a brave face.

The biggest challenge for the teams, however, will be to settle down fast and get accustomed to the conditions. While the teams from the North-East haven’t had enough match practice, Puducherry reached the final of the Vizzy Trophy last week, defeating teams like Mumbai and Baroda in the process. That would certainly put the team from the south in a better position.

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Having seasoned campaigners — Abhishek Nayar, Pankaj Singh and Paras Dogra — in its ranks, Puducherry will be hoping to start the campaign on a winning note when it takes on Manipur at the Motibagh Stadium in Vadodara on Wednesday. “The preparations have been good, and the boys have gained some experience in the Vizzy Trophy. There will be initial challenges, but we don’t want to keep that in mind and our idea is to stick to the basics,” Puducherry coach, Aavishkar Salvi, said.

Sikkim players train at the Motibagh Stadium in Vadodara.   -  Special Arrangement

 

While the Motibagh Stadium will be one of the venues, the GS Patel Stadium in Nadiad and Shastri Maidan in Anand will also host the fixtures. “The conditions here are good and it is a challenge for us to play some good cricket. Most of the players are young and we need to get the best out of them,” former India international and current coach of Bihar, Subroto Banerjee, said.

His home state, Bihar, will be returning to domestic circuit after 18 long years and Banerjee is quite emotional. “We are trying to start from the scratch. There will be initial struggles, but hopefully, things will fall in place soon. We have some raw talents, who need to be nurtured,” Banerjee said. The team will be led by seasoned campaigner Pragyan Ojha, when it takes the field against Nagaland in Anand.

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Even Uttarakhand will be hoping to put behind the early jitters. Led by the seasoned Rajat Bhatia, the state has a mix of young and seasoned campaigners. While old warhorses Vineet Saxena and Malolan Rangarajan will be responsible to anchor the ship, the youngsters like Mayank Mishra and Vaibhav Bhatt will be hoping to make their presence felt.

While Puducherry, Bihar and Uttarakhand appear well prepared, the teams from the North-East haven’t had much training before the tournament. With incessant rains in the region, most of the teams had to compromise on practice, but even then, they hope to prove their mettle.

Meghalaya, the superior team among the lot, will be led by Jason Lamare — who previously played for Assam — and will have seasoned campaigners in Mark Ingty, Puneet Bisht, Yogesh Nagar and Gurinder Singh. “We have had good preparation and now it is up to us to execute the plans well. To be honest, we are a bit cautious,” captain Lamare said.

Meghalaya players pose for a group photo before their first-class debut.   -  Special Arrangement

 

Sikkim, on the other hand, will be the only State from the North-East region participating in the tournament with only local players. To avoid any controversy, the state association has decided not to field any outstation player for the side captained by Nilesh Lamichaney.

While it is a challenge for players, it is also a huge task for the coaches. Former Karnataka coach, P.V. Shashikanth, is looking after Mizoram this season and he makes it clear that it is important to look into every aspect of the game. “We did not get many matches due to rains. We reached Nadiad four days ago and got some practice. Our bowling looks settled, but batting could be a concern,” Shashikanth said.

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The side will be depending largely on outstation players Akhil Rajput and Taruwar Kohli.

Last year, the Nagaland U-19 women’s team was bundled out for two runs in the BCCI tournament, and to ensure that something similar does not happen, most of the states have brought in outstation players. But with not much exposure, it would be interesting to see how the homegrown talents fare in the big-ticket tournament.

Wednesday’s fixtures

Arunachal Pradesh vs Mizoram (Nadiad), Bihar vs Nagaland (Anand), Manipur vs Puducherry (Vadodara).