Ranji Trophy: Punjab takes on Bengal

Punjab will be without its star players Mandeep Singh and Harbhajan Singh when it takes on Bengal in the Ranji Trophy in Bilaspur on Thursday.

Sairaj Bahutule (left), the Bengal coach, felt that the new initiative of neutral venues would help players gauge their abilities accurately.   -  Vivek Bendre

Cricket is likely to continue being unpredictable in lively conditions as Punjab takes on Bengal in the Ranji Trophy Group A match at the picturesque Luhnu ground here from Thursday.

In neutral conditions, the challenge is for the players to master both the opposition and the conditions to express their ability.

Punjab coach Arun Sharma has assured that the team would put up its best performance even though it missed the services of Mandeep Singh and Harbhajan Singh. Mandeep Singh is off for national duty while Harbhajan is undergoing rehabilitation and is expected to join the team for the next match.

“Cricket has been up and down. We were 345 for three and then 378 all out. We will continue to deal with the match, session by session, and day by day,” said Arun Sharma.

'Tough group'

Despite that tumble, Punjab did beat Madhya Pradesh by more than a hundred runs at the Lahli ground in Rohtak in the last match, after having conceded the first innings lead to Railways in the opening match of the season.

“It is a tough group. We are only playing our second match. Punjab is a strong team. It is a beautiful ground and the setting is nice. There is grass cover on the pitch. We hope to play good cricket by trying to focus on our strength,” said the Bengal coach, Sairaj Bahutule.

Bahutule, the former leg-spinner who had represented the country in Tests and one-dayers, felt that the new initiative of neutral venues would help players gauge their abilities accurately, and help them assess where they stood, by the end of the season.

Bengal will play its second match after having taken the first innings lead against Uttar Pradesh in the opener, in which Abhimanyu Easwaran scored a century in both the innings for the team, in Jaipur.

With Manoj Tiwary and Pragyan Ojha in the team, Bengal would be able to match Punjab, led by Yuvraj Singh, in terms of high quality players. “Himachal offers very good playing conditions,” said the Punjab coach Arun Sharma, quite confident that his players would be able to capitalise on the conditions because of the relative familiarity.

It will only be the second first-class match at this ground in more than a decade, but going by the way Tamil Nadu recorded a 174-run victory over Railways in the first match a few days ago, it should be another cracker of a contest.

The teams:

Punjab: Yuvraj Singh (captian), Gurkirat Mann, Geetash Khera, Jiwanjot Singh, Manan Vohra, Uday Kaul, Vinay Choudhari, Rajwinder Singh, Siddarth Kaul, Sandeep Sharma, Manpreet Gony, Subek Gill, Tarunwal Kohli, Pargat Singh, Sharat Loomba.

Bengal: Manoj Tiwary (captian), Prasanjit Das, Aryan Bhattacharya, Sudip Chatterjee, Writtick Chatterjee, Ashok Dinda, Abhimanyu Easwaran, Aamir Gani, Sayan Ghosh, Shreevats Goswami, Sayan Mondal, Pragyan Ojha, Agniv Pan, Ishan Porel, Veer Pratap Singh, Pankaj Shaw.

Other matches (Group A):

Gujarat v Railways, Rohtak

Madhya Pradesh v Mumbai, Raipur

>Tamil Nadu v Uttar Pradesh , Dharamsala

For more updates, follow Sportstar on :