Long format over, teams look to keep it short

The Ranji Trophy is over. It’s time to switch from the traditional whites into trendier and colourful clothing as the West Zone Twenty20 League gets underway in the Kathiawari heartland.

Having been unlucky to have still not cemented his place in Mumbai's Ranji starting eleven, the bespectacled opener's breath-taking stroke-player is tailor-made for the shortest format.   -  Prashant Nakwe

The Ranji Trophy is over. It’s time to switch from the traditional whites into trendier and colourful clothing as the West Zone Twenty20 League gets underway in the Kathiawari heartland. As the promising youngsters and seasoned pros alike look to ‘express themselves’ in the shortest format, players from all the five teams will hope to do it responsibly enough to attract the attention from the Indian Premier League franchises ahead of the big auction scheduled later this month.

With the Board of Control for Cricket in India having inexplicably converted the national knock-outs for the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy into an inter-zone tournament, the zonal leagues have been converted into a kind of selection trials for the IPL. And the BCCI in a way admitted as much by re-jigging the domestic schedule to allow the IPL franchises have a good look at the domestic crop in the T20s.

PLAYERS TO WATCH OUT FOR...

Krunal Pandya (Baroda)

The younger brother has been retained by Mumbai Indians. The elder one will be looking to attract a Right to Match bid by following up on his Man of the Match-winning performance in the IPL 2017 final. The fact that he tied the knot with his sweetheart Pankhuri only last week may act as an additional inspiring factor.

Axar Patel (Gujarat)

The southpaw was one of the surprise retentions ahead of the IPL auctions, being the only Kings XI Punjab to be retained. He will be looking forward to celebrate – and stake a claim for an India recall – with a strong performance as a player and the captain.

Rahul Tripathi (Maharashtra)

The Pune batsman was one of the finds of the 2017 IPL. If he can come up with as consistent performances in the coming week as he delivered in the Supergiant colours, he could well assure himself an entry into the crorepati club come January 28.

Jay Bista (Mumbai)

Having been unlucky to have still not cemented his place in Mumbai's Ranji starting eleven, the bespectacled opener's breath-taking stroke-player is tailor-made for the shortest format. If Bista comes good at the top, Mumbai can hope to defend its title and the batsman can pocket an IPL contract.

Robin Uthappa (Saurashtra)

The veteran batsman has still not set the SCA Stadium on fire in what is his maiden season as a professional cricketer. Uthappa will be looking forward to make a statement with a consistent run for his recently-adopted team.

Still, all five teams have a lot to earn even as a group over the next week. A youthful Mumbai squad may be missing Shreyas Iyer’s services since he is recovering from a right hamstring injury. Still, Aditya Tare's boys will be hoping to give themselves to cheer following a disappointing end to its Ranji Trophy campaign with a humiliating loss to Karnataka in the round of eight. Besides, Mumbai will be eager to defend the zonal title after remaining unbeaten in the last year's league.

Gujarat's Ranji title defence may have halted in the quarter-final abruptly and the team may have lost veteran skipper Parthiv Patel, who is in South Africa on India duty, but the all-rounder duo of Axar Patel and Piyush Chawla will be keen to inspire his team-mates into taking at least one trophy home this time around.

Host Saurashtra has fielded the biggest squad, including 18 members. If the seasoned players like import Robin Uthappan, Sheldon Jackson and Jaydev Unadkat come into their elements, a majority of the young reserves will only have to serve drinks over the coming week.

From being led by one of the two Pathan brothers to omitting both of them from the squad, Baroda has come a long way in the Ranji Trophy season. Pathan brothers continue to be sidelined but Deepak Hooda's young bunch continues to have a strong family bonding. Krunal Pandya, India all-rounder Hardik's elder brother, remains an intergral part. Besides, sons of India women's coach Tushar Arothe and former India wicket-keeper Nayan Mongia – Rishi and Mohit – also find place in the squad.

Maharashtra, meanwhile, will hope to be inspired by the presence of its lone international star Kedar Jadhav's presence. Due to a combination of India duties and injuries, Jadhav couldnt feature in any of Maharashtra's Ranji campaign. He will be eager to prove his fitness and get the best out of a talented unit.

Sunday’s matches

Mumbai vs Baroda (9.30am)

Gujarat vs Maharashtra (1.30pm)