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Rediff.com  » Cricket » Ranji semi-final preview: Mumbai, Haryana start favourites on home turf

Ranji semi-final preview: Mumbai, Haryana start favourites on home turf

January 09, 2012 20:18 IST

A no-holds-barred battle is on the cards when 39-time champions Mumbai will take on their long-time rivals Tamil Nadu in the semifinals of the Ranji Trophy, starting at the Wankhede Stadium on Tuesday.

Though depleted by the absence of regular players Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane (both of them are in Australia), Ajit Agarkar, injured wicketkeeper-batsman Sushant Marathe and swing bowler Avishkar Salvi, the hosts have shown admirable resilience and gumption to make the grade. 

And Tamil Nadu certainly would not be taking any chances against the hosts. 

When Mumbai were ruling the roost in domestic cricket in the 1950s and 1960s, leading to 15 consecutive titles, Tamil Nadu could never even take a first innings lead. 

However, over the last two decades, the scenario has changed with Tamil Nadu scoring outright victories as well as taking the first innings honours on a few occasions, notably in their last two meetings in 2009-10 and 2010-11. 

In 22 previous meetings, going back to the tournament's inaugural year 1936, Mumbai emerged winners on all but four occasions, their first reverse occurring as late as February 1996 -- in the 14th clash -- when Tamil Nadu won by 153 runs at Tirunelveli in the quarterfinals. 

While Tamil Nadu, who have lifted the title only twice, have traditionally relied on their spin bowling in the past, notably the famed duo of Srinivas Venkataraghavan and Vaman Kumar, they appear to carry an edge in batting this time around. 

Barring the 30-year-old skipper Laxmipathy Balaji, who has grabbed 288 wickets in 83 first-class matches, including 27 in eight Tests, the visiting team's attack lacks sufficient experience.

They are, in fact, relying on two newcomers -- medium pacer Jagannath Kaushik and off spinner Sunny Gupta -- along with another young left-arm spinner Aushik Srinivas to support their captain and fellow-seamer V Yo Mahesh.

While Balaji, who said he was fit to play after suffering back spasms towards the closing stages of their quarterfinal tie against Maharashtra at home, has grabbed 16 wickets this season and has also got good support from Srinivas (18 wickets), Yo Mahesh and Kaushik (both 20 wickets each). 

"Playing against Mumbai always provides a big challenge, and we have had some very good contests over the years. We have an experienced batting line-up and will try to play to our potential," said Balaji, ahead of the clash. 

TN's batting line-up includes India discards Murali Vijay who has struck form in the latter part of the season, left-hander Abhibnav Mukund, the mainstay with over 825 runs from seven games, fit-again S Badrinath (207 runs in four matches) and wicketkeeper Dinesh Kartik (470 in seven games). 

Meanwhile, Mumbai skipper Wasim Jaffer has hinted his team will make a change in the eleven with Praful Waghela making way for in-form and fit-again Abhishek Nayar, who, along with Suryakumar Yadav has carried Mumbai's batting on his shoulders.

Apart from Jaffer and Nayar, Mumbai will also be relying heavily on Suryakumar Yadav, who has been in excellent form with 669 runs from eight matches. 

Haryana, Rajasthan lock horns for a place in final

Meanwhile, an intriguing battle is on cards when the bravehearts from Haryana square off against defending champions Rajasthan in the Ranji Trophy semifinal at the Bansi Lal Stadium in Rohtak.

While Rajasthan's entry into the last four asserted the fact that winning the national championship last year was no flash in the pan, the little-known youngsters from Haryana have shown that intent and big heart can work wonders in crunch situations. 

Strange as it may sound, the strip at the Bansi Lal Stadium has always been known for supporting the seamers and a patch of green in the 22-yard strip would certainly suggest that.

If Haryana have done well in the batting department, Rajasthan have been a notch better with the current top-scorer in the Ranji Trophy, Robin Bist, coming into this match with a whopping 841 runs at an average of over 105 to his credit. 

The two 'pros' skipper Hrishikesh Kanitkar and veteran Aakash Chopra have also contributed 462 and 491 runs to their credit respectively.  Therefore, it can be safely concluded that the better bowling unit will have the edge.

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