New-look Railways takes on Yuvraj's Punjab

The teams were unable to practice on the eve of the match with the outfield being damp after heavy rains.

India and Punjab cricketer Yuvraj Singh

Last Ranji Trophy season, Yuvraj Singh made 398 runs from 11 innings.   -  G. P. Sampath Kumar

The new Ranji Trophy season coinciding with a packed international calendar at home and a new selection committee means there are quite a handful of players across the 28 teams who would be hoping to catch the selectors' eye, either to make the grade or return to form. Leading the latter pack would be Yuvraj Singh when Punjab takes on Railways in its opening game at the Palam A ground starting on Thursday.

The teams were unable to practice on the eve of the match with the outfield being damp after heavy rains. The experiment of neutral venues has been welcomed by the sides even at the cost of losing 'home advantage'.

“Hopefully, there will at least be competitive matches lasting four days, unlike what used to happen in the past when several games would end in just two days or even less. Specially in the north, where weather conditions in any case mean a full game is not a surety,” said Punjab coach Arun Sharma.

With more rain forecast in the coming days, he has reason for concern. Incidentally, the first game of the previous season for both teams was also against each other with Punjab winning by an innings and 126 runs at home. With most of the squad being same barring handy all-rounder Amitoze Singh, who's moved to Saurashtra, Punjab would be hoping for an encore on a green top that Sharma expected to assist seamers.

“But it should be an even contest given the bowling strengths of both sides,” he added.

Railways, on the other hand, is desperate for new beginnings and has started with a new look in its personnel. Former India all-rounder J. P. Yadav, instrumental in Railways winning the title back in 2004-05, has replaced Harvinder Singh as coach and the team has dropped some old faces. Medium pacer Krishnakant Upadhyay is missing, as is opener Ashish Singh, who was among the few bright spots for the team last year. Middle-order bat Anustup Majumdar has moved back to Bengal.

In their stead, the team has signed up medium pacer Manjeet Singh and 37-year old Nikhil Doru, who last played competitive cricket in August 2010. Finishing second from bottom last season with just two wins — including against Andhra in its last match to avoid relegation — and six huge losses, Railways is happy with neutral grounds, their better performances coming away from home.

Leg-spinner Karn Sharma, who burst into limelight, both domestically and internationally, as fast as he disappeared from it, would be leading the side and hoping to get a second chance, specially given the windfall of Tests to be played at home in the coming months.

Squads:

Punjab: Yuvraj Singh (capt.), Jeevanjot Singh, Manan Vohra, Uday Kaul, Mandeep Singh, Gurkeerat Mann, Gitansh Khera (wk), Vinay Chaudhary, Siddharth Kaul, Sandeep Sharma, Manpreet Grewal, Mayank Sidana, Rajwinder Singh, Subek Gill, Arpit Singh Pannu.

Railways: Karn Sharma (capt.), Ranjit Mali, Anureet Singh, Ashish Yadav, Avinash Yadav, Deepak Bansal, V Cheluvaraj, Mrunal Devdhar, Nikhil Doru, Arindam Ghosh, Gaurav Khatri, Manjeet Singh, Akshat Pandey, Mahesh Rawat, Shivakant Shukla, Saurabh Wakaskar.