TN, Mumbai gear up for 'intense contest'

Tamil Nadu and defending champion Mumbai face off on a neutral venue in Lahli on the opening day of the new Ranji Trophy season.

Chandrakant Pandit..."There is grass on the pitch and the neutral venue factor makes it all the more interesting."   -  Vivek Bendre

An open ground is a rarity on the Indian cricket circuit and the Chaudhary Bansi Lal stadium here offers a rustic ambience but competitive conditions for the players. Surrounded by green fields, the stadium welcomes Mumbai and Tamil Nadu to their opening Ranji Trophy fixture at a neutral venue, an experiment introduced this season by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).

The move has evoked varied responses from the cricket fraternity but the teams would be happy to compete without the pressures of playing at home. There is one team, Delhi, which prefers playing away matches in the hope of getting better playing conditions. But Mumbai and Tamil Nadu have no such issues.

For Tamil Nadu coach Hrishikesh Kanitkar the assignment obviously carries lot of responsibility. The expectations would be high because he is the first cricketer from outside the State to take on the mantle of guiding the side. “I am looking forward to my assignment. We’ve done quite a bit of work. The TNCA (Tamil Nadu Cricket Association) has a very professional setup and this team would love to win the title. We have our targets in place and would take it session by session,” said Kanitkar.

Unfamiliar conditions often bring the best out of the talented players. They test the character of an individual and Kanitkar feels it is a move that will add to the challenge of raising your game. “It will shake the players out of the comfort zone. They all must accept the challenge and produce good tactical cricket. Playing at neutral venues will make them better players,” the Tamil Nadu coach said.

Tamil Nadu, which prides in hosting the best local league in the country, falls short of expectations when it comes to Ranji Trophy title wins, just two thus far apart from four losses in the final.

Defending champion Mumbai is the iconic team of Indian cricket, not to forget some great moments from Delhi and Karnataka, teams with seven title victories each, ahead of Baroda (5) and Holkar (4). With 41 title wins, Mumbai obviously has a splendid track record but would be hard-pressed to repeat the feat this season in the absence of Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane, on India duty, and Siddhesh Lad and Shreyas Iyer, on the injured list. Mumbai will also miss seamer Shardul Thakur who has been summoned to join the Test team.

“It would be an intense contest. There is grass on the pitch and the neutral venue factor makes it all the more interesting. I don’t think Mumbai has any added pressure of defending the title but I expect the boys to be as professional as the previous Mumbai teams,” said Mumbai coach Chandrakant Pandit.

The teams (from):

Tamil Nadu: Abhinav Mukund (Capt), B. Aparajith, B. Indrajith, M. S. Washington Sundar, N. Jagadeesan, Dinesh Karthik, J. Kousik, L. Surya Prakash, Rahil Shah, Malolan Rangarajan, R. Aushik Srinivas, A. Aswin Crist, M. Mohammed, K. Vignesh, T. Natrajan and M. Kaushik Gandhi.

Mumbai: Aditya Tare (Capt), Abhishek Nayar, Dhawal Kulkarni, Suryakumar Yadav, Nikhil Patil (Jr), Akhil Herwadkar, Jay Bista, Armaan Jaffer, Kaustab Pawar, Sufiyan Shaikh, Balwinder Singh Sandhu (Jr), Tushar Deshpande, Vishal Dabholkar and Vijay Gohil.