Overseen by the convivial Gursharan Singh, the head coach, and under the hot sun, the Uttarakhand squad went about its practice with earnestness in the nets outside the main ground at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium here.
Alongside Gursharan, who replaced K. P. Bhaskar for the 2019-20 season, Unmukt Chand, the new captain, provides the team with a new look.
Having won most of its matches in the Vijay Hazare Trophy last season, albeit in the Plate Group, the team looks to do even better this time.
“We’re not here to [just] participate; we’re here to win the tournament. People may think of us as underdogs but we don’t care. We’ve got the right armoury, we’ve got the right people. We’ve got the right combinations. I’m really looking forward to having a great tournament. First, yes, tomorrow’s game, and then, the league phase,” Unmukt told Sportstar determinedly on Tuesday, ahead of his team’s first Vijay Hazare Trophy contest against Chandigarh.
Outlining the task ahead and his new captaincy stint, Unmukt said, “The boys are new, so it’s got to take some time. One thing is playing matches together and it’s one thing to have practice matches together.
"In the coming matches, we’re going to see more of each other. Make mistakes, learn and get better. So, it’s more about how quickly we adapt to situations because that’s going to be the key.”
Acknowledging the team’s winning run last season, Unmukt said: “We had a great season last year, some very good performances from the boys. Coming into the tournament and performing like that speaks volumes of these guys. These guys have been playing cricket here and there. Some of them keep playing their cricket in Uttar Pradesh, Delhi – all these places. A good bunch of boys, very talented.”
After the last season, “they are mentally in a better state; they are more confident of themselves,” according to Unmukt.
However, to get through to the quarterfinals, Uttarakhand has to finish at the top among nine sides in its group.
Chandigarh, the new entrant, may well prove to be a big obstacle on its path; after all, it has lots of Indian Premier League (IPL) experience in Manan Vohra, Uday Kaul, and Barinder Sran.
Unmukt termed Wednesday’s contest “a good challenge.”
“Our strengths; that is what we will be focussing on. If we do our job at hand well then I don’t think it’s going to be a problem. If you’re going to play on your strength and if you’re going to play ourselves the way Uttarakhand had played last season – express ourselves – then I don’t think we are in a [spot of bother],” he declared.
Kaushal holds key
K. V. Kaushal, who scored the tourney’s first double-century last year, will hope for a similarly productive 50-over season this time. In eight innings, he had scored 489 runs, including three centuries.
Uttarakhand will turn to Deepak Dhapola, the fast bowler, for early breakthroughs, especially here. Dhapola had been impressive last season, taking 14 wickets from eight matches at an average of 13.50. On Tuesday, he spent a considerable time away from the practice nets, stretching.
Moreover, the cool, cloudy conditions in the morning here are likely be suitable for seamers to make an impact early on.
Commenting on the depth of the side, Unmukt said: “There are some very good boys. Boys have done very well. One year, you can’t expect more from them but yes, Avnish Sudha has been batting very well – he got a 91 against Vidarbha. Very aggressive batsman, good lad.
"The batsmen have done well; Karn Veer [Kaushal] has done well. Good that Tanmay [Srivastava] is there in the batting department, with me. Diksahnshu is there; leg-spinner – he’s played the [Karnataka Premier League] in the past so there’s experience. Bowlers – Dhanraj [Sharma], Deepak [Dhapola].”
What also augurs well for the side is that the team has been bonding well, pointed out Unmukt.
“The two-week camp [ahead of the tournament] has been very good; we have been practising at the Abhimanyu Cricket Academy. It’s a residential facility – you’re there with each other for the whole day. It’s a lot of time on the field, off the field. So, yes, you have to work a lot on technique, on basics, on different departments – batting, bowling, fielding. I’ve been personally involved with the boys in terms of the team plans, even the technical stuff, because these guys are new.
"If I could help in batting or use my experiences in how we can get the batsman out, for the bowlers. And keeping, I’ve done quite a bit of keeping for Delhi as well, so, I’m being trying to be around the boys as much as I can. On the field, if I can contribute in various ways; off the field, we have been having a good time, we’re together the whole day, so it’s making a lot of difference. We’ve been hanging out; going out as well. Good thing is that the whole team is together,” he said.
Based out of Dehradun for the entire group stage, Uttarakhand has the home advantage. “Last year, yes, there was a bit of assistance for the medium pacers. The only thing is it’s raining here now. Quite a bit in the last one month and still going on so that’s why the pitch curator hasn’t got time to prepare the pitch in a way that the sun is shining hard on the wickets.
"That’s going to be there but it doesn’t concern us because obviously, it’s going to be the same for all the teams, and we know the pitches here,” Unmukt said.
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