Ranji Trophy: Depleted Punjab faces Mumbai

Punjab did not have the services of a match-winner spinner like Harbhajan Singh through out the season for various reasons and Yuvraj Singh has been busy with the preparations for his marriage after playing five matches.

Gurkeerat Mann will be leading Punjab against Mumbai.   -  Sandeep Saxena

As champions always do, perennial champion Mumbai has been clinical in ensuring its qualification for the knockout phase, with plenty to spare.

Punjab, on the other hand, with considerable potential, has not been able to field its best team this season in Ranji Trophy. Thus, even the best performance from its second string against the champion team may not be enough for it to stay afloat in the competition.

Mumbai, with 29 points, following three wins and four draws, has only pride at stake when it clashes with Punjab at the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium here from Wednesday.

As the defending champion, Mumbai will automatically be No.1 in Group ‘A’, and thus it may not try to force anything against Punjab, in the last league match.

The loss to Bengal, in the fine setting of Bilaspur in Himachal Pradesh, when playing conditions made it a lively affair, has hurt Punjab. It lost a match that it could have won or at least drawn.

Bengal (17) has thrived on those six points, and with two matches on hand, it is better placed than Punjab. Gujarat (24) with two matches on hand, Tamil Nadu (23) and Madhya Pradesh (19) are also better placed in their aspiration to grab two of the remaining qualification spots from the group behind Mumbai.

Three teams qualify from groups ‘A’ and ‘B’ while two make the quarterfinals from group ‘C’.

Punjab did not have the services of a match-winner spinner like Harbhajan Singh through out the season for various reasons. The flamboyant Yuvraj Singh, who scored 672 runs with a career-best 260 to boot against Baroda, has been busy with the preparations for his marriage after playing five matches.

With Manan Vohra, who scored 671 runs in seven matches also out with viral fever, even though he has travelled with the team, the woes of Punjab are complete. Punjab may field Pargat Singh, if Manan does not recover and be ready for the final stretch of the battle.

‘’We have never been at full strength. It has hurt our overall game.The experience of Harbhajan and Yuvraj are important as they are both match-winners’’, bemoaned the Punjab coach Arun Sharma.

Siddharth Kaul and Sandeep Sharma have done very well to bag 55 wickets between them in helping Punjab, stay in the race, or at least stay ahead of teams like Uttar Pradesh, Railways and Baroda. The experienced left-hander Uday Kaul has also done very well to garner 599 runs with six half centuries.

Hope springs eternal, and Punjab would do well to provide a fitting climax to the league phase, despite its limited fire power. That is precisely what the coach wants. ‘’We have to win this match and wait for the other results’’, said Arun Sharma.

Squads:

Mumbai: Aditya Tare (capt.), Kaustubh Pawar, Shreyas Iyer, Suryakumar Yadav, Nikhil Patil jr., Shubham Ranjane, Abhishek Nayar, Dhawal Kulkarni, Shardul Thakur, Tushar Deshpande, Vishal Dabholkar, Aditya Dhumal, Roystan Dias, Armaan Jaffer and Sufiyan Sheikh.

Punjab: Gurkeerat Mann (capt.), 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.