Keen tussle expected in opening round of Ranji Trophy (Lead)

October 31st, 2010 - 10:51 pm ICT by IANS  

Mumbai, Oct 31 (IANS) The Ranji Trophy, beginning Monday, will see some keen tussles in the first round with two-time defending champions Mumbai taking on Saurashtra in the Elite Group Super League here.

Mumbai beat Karnataka in a thrilling final last year to claim a record 39th Ranji Trophy title.

But the champion team will have to be more consistent with the bat and the ball to stay on the top this season.

Mumbai’s middle-order has not lived up to expectations last year and barring Ajinkya Rahane and Wasim Jaffer, none of the batsmen could score with consistency.

Rohit Sharma, who has been slipping out of international reckoning, will have to prove his worth this season. It could be a make-or-break season for the classy batsman who many believe is a future middle order mainstay of the Indian team.

Mumbai also need to strike with their bowlers. Ajit Agarkar and Ramesh Powar have been there for a long time and it is time for the young generation to take over the mantle.

Saurashtra will be without its star batsman Cheteshwar Pujara, who would be looking for a berth in the playing XI against New Zealand in the first Test.

Saurashtra have been doing well since winning the plate group in 2005-06. The team has reached the semi-finals for two years in Elite division with good performances from Pujara and Ravindra Jadeja.

In Delhi, the home team will take on Bengal. The match holds promise of an exciting fare with two well-balanced sides fighting it out on a pitch that is serving a one-year ban on hosting international matches since January.

Delhi, with a new coach in former India player Manoj Prabhakar, will be hoping to improve on their last year’s semi-final appearance.

The strength of the team will be the pace quartet of Parvinder Awana, Sumit Narwal, Pradeep Sangwan and Pawan Suyal. Delhi relied heavily on their pacers, who often made up for the lacklustre show of the batsmen to bring the team on the top.

Like Prabhakar, it will be a new assignment for Bengal coach Woorkeri Venkat Raman, former India batsman and Tamil Nadu player.

Raman will have a balanced and experienced side which did not do justice to its talent reserve last season.

Bengal were impressive, but could win only a solitary match, wasting some of the opportunities that came their way.

Raman would be looking to infuse that killer instinct in the team that has a new captain in Manoj Tiwary.

Apart from Tiwary, the Bengal batting would revolve around Abhishek Jhunjhunwala, Wriddhiman Saha.

Bengal’s pace bowling attack will be in the safe hands of Ranadeb Bose, who grabbed 28 wickets last year, and Ashok Dinda, while veteran all-rounder Laxmi Ratan Shukla would be playing freely after being bogged down by the captaincy controversy last year.

In Chennai, Tamil Nadu, seeking their third Ranji Trophy title after a lapse of 23 years, will take on Assam at the MA Chidambaram Stadium.

Tamil Nadu could not have asked for a better draw in the Elite Group as they play six of their seven league matches on home turf.

Last season, Tamil Nadu cruised through their group matches but lost to Delhi on first innings lead in the knock-out stage and their premature exit only underlined their vulnerability.

However, even before the team could take a look at the pitch, the eyes were turned heavenwards with the prospects of rains very much on the cards as the North-East monsoon set in a couple of days back. Although Sunday was balmy and dry, the forecast is for rains next week and in this period, when it rains, it pours.

On paper, Tamil Nadu appear the stronger of the two teams with an array of attacking batsmen and fairly strong bowling attack that will be in the capable hands of off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin and seamers Lakshmipathy Balaji, Chandrasekar Ganapathy and Yo Mahesh.

Of interest will be the performance of schoolboy left-arm spinner Aushik Srinivas although it remains to be seen whether he will make it to the playing eleven.

Tamil Nadu will be without opener Murali Vijay who will be away for the home Test series against New Zealand commencing this week.

Assam, making their debut in the Elite Group, have fortified their line-up by including guest players in Amol Mazumdar, the former Mumbai star who will also be leading the team, Dheeraj Jadhav and Sridharan Sriram, a former Tamil Nadu player.

Ranji Trophy Super League matches (Nov 1-4):

Group A: Delhi vs Bengal at Delhi, Mumbai vs Saurashtra at Mumbai, Railways vs Gujarat at Delhi, Tamil Nadu vs Assam at Chennai

Group B: Himachal Pradesh vs Haryana at Dharamsala, Orissa vs Baroda at Cuttack, Uttar Pradesh Pradesh vs Punjab at Meerut.

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