Vijay Hazare Trophy: TN take on Gujarat

Tamil Nadu, in the days following its exit from the group stages of the Ranji Trophy, would have no doubt felt suffocated. But the string of victories since then, in the Vijay Hazare trophy, has been like oxygen, energising and carrying the side into the semifinals.

R. Ashwin (left), a thinking bowler, has seamlessly transformed into a thinking captain.   -  G. P. Sampath Kumar

Tamil Nadu, in the days following its exit from the group stages of the Ranji Trophy, would have no doubt felt suffocated. Trapped and almost smothered as the players were, courtesy a few less-than-desired performances and the elements.

But the string of victories since then, in the Vijay Hazare trophy, has been like oxygen, energising and carrying the side into the semifinals where it takes on Gujarat at the KSCA’s Alur grounds near here on Saturday.

“Overall we have played very good cricket,” said coach M. Sanjay. “They are all charged up. There is a lot of self belief and confidence. We are not looking at anything less than winning the trophy.”

“We have been in tough situations. The last match [against Uttar Pradesh] has shown that we can fight it out. Be it eight-down or nine-down. We won’t let ourselves be dominated. Early on against Punjab we lost. But these things happen and we learnt.”

The key Sanjay said was in the team’s new-found mantras of flexibility and adaptability and R. Ashwin’s captaincy. While the former has resulted in a batting order re-jig which saw M. Vijay wield the willow in the middle order, the latter has ensured that Ashwin, the thinking bowler, has seamlessly transformed into Ashwin the thinking captain.

“Each one has to raise his hand when something goes wrong,” Sanjay said. “Who bats at three-down or four-down nothing is fixed. The thing is to never allow opponents to think ‘we know what to do with TN’. It has happened in the last few years and we are trying to break that.”

Ashwin is a great motivator: Sanjay

“Ashwin is a great motivator. My personal opinion is that he should captain the country in the near future. His thing is to just be fearless. Vijay has been fantastic too. Mentally very tough and that’s what makes him such a good opening bat. He has batted in the middle order to guide some very good youngsters like Aparajith, Indrajith, Vijay Shankar.”

Asked if all this took root in the aftermath of the Ranji exit, Sanjay said that they had had such thoughts early on too.

“We have always been a good one-day team. Right from the beginning we have been telling that you do well in the Ranji you get into the India teams. It happened with Abhinav [Mukund], Aparajith, Vijay Shankar (all India ‘A’). Also the likes of Aswin Crist have been talked about. This year that is not there. But the tournament has a new format. There are no zones. It’s all-India now. This is the time to show your talent.”

In the other semifinal, Delhi will meet Himachal Pradesh at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium. “We have beaten big teams in the past,” said Himachal’s Rishi Dhawan. “We have beaten Delhi in the Vijay Hazare couple of times before. And we beat them in the T20 tournament last year. So the boys do not easily get intimidated.”