Yuvraj-less Punjab ready for TN challenge

Punjab sans senior pros -- Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan Singh -- will be up against a formidable Tamil Nadu side in a contest that can decide the teams' future course in the tournament.

mandeep singh

Mandeep Singh (in picture) will be expected to lead Punjab's batting unit in Yuvraj Singh's absence.   -  AFP

The quiet environs of the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium here are interspersed with the jovial banter of Punjab's players even as Tamil Nadu finishes its routine nets ahead of a crucial game starting here on Monday. Punjab, with 16 points from five matches, is placed fourth in the group while Tamil Nadu's second with 20 points from six matches.

The contest here can decide the teams' future course in the tournament. Punjab, of course, suffered a jolt this morning when Harbhajan Singh pulled out on account of a personal issue. This would have been his first match. Yuvraj Singh, who is busy with his wedding arrangements, will miss his first match of the season. With 672 runs from eight innings, Yuvraj was on the right track for a comeback to the national side.

The presence of Mandeep Singh and the return of Mayank Siddana adds to the batting strength of Punjab. Seamers Siddharth Kaul, Sandeep Sharma and Manpreet Gony guide the bowling department. Kamal Passi, who has shifted from Services, is yet to play a match. Left-arm spinner Rajwinder Singh is a slow bowler to reckon with.

“We have a nice balance,” asserted Punjab skipper Gurkeerat Mann. “We have to cope with the absence of Yuvraj and Harbhajan. We have lacked in some matches after starting off well. But I guess this is the time for us to peak. It is important we have to do well here. The openers (Jiwanjit Singh and Manan Vohra) have done well. The top order has the balance to boost our campaign. We are happy to have Mandeep Singh. He strengthens the batting a lot.”

Tamil Nadu’s over-reliance on skipper Abhinav Mukund and the seasoned Dinesh Karthik is evident. Both have aggregated over 1000 runs in six games. B. Indrajith and M. Kaushik Gandhi’s consistency has been critical as well.

The thrust in the bowling has come from seamers K. Vignesh (26 wickets), Aswin Crist (20 wickets) and the talented left-armer T. Natarajan (14 wickets) even as left-arm spinner Aushik Srinivas shoulders the spin department. “We have played as a team,” claimed the 26-year-old Tamil Nadu skipper Abhinav Mukund.

“The youngsters have stepped up especially well given the unknown conditions we have encountered due to neutral venues. The team has adapted quickly to the situations and met the challenges adequately. I like the spirit of the team. It wants to win by playing a notch above. Personally I am just looking to contribute as best as I can and take it game by game,” said Mukund.

The captains observed the pitch looked sporting with support for the seamers initially and the spinners likely as the game progressed.

The teams:

Tamil Nadu: Abhinav Mukund (captain), Washington Sundar, L. Suryaprakash, B. Aparajith, B. Indrajith, N. Jagadeesan, Dinesh Karthik, J. Kousik, M. Kaushik Gandhi, Rahil Shah, Malolan Rangarajan, R. Aushik Srinivas, Aswin Crist, Vijay Shankar, K. Vignesh, L. Vignesh and T. Natarajan

Punjab: Gurkeerat Mann (Captain), Jiwanjot Singh, Manan Vohra, Mayank Siddana, Mandeep Singh, Uday Kaul, Geetansh Khera, Siddharth Kaul, Sandeep Sharma, Kamal Passi, Manpreet Gony, Rajwinder Singh, Pargat Singh, Arpit Pannu, Sharad Lumba and Anmol Malhotra.