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Ranji final promises keen fare

By Ashish Magotra
May 03, 2003 16:09 IST
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The new Ranji Trophy format has ensured that the two best teams in India's premier domestic tournament, Mumbai and Tamil Nadu, made it to the final, which will be played at the Wankhede stadium, in Mumbai, on Sunday.

Both are evenly matched and the enforced absence of Sachin Tendulkar makes things all the more interesting. It provides a chance for the young Turks to shine and a few seniors to make a point to the national selectors.

Mumbai's dominance in the Ranji Trophy is a well-documented fact. In 38 entries to the final, they emerged triumphant 34 times. In this year's final, they hold a slight edge in terms of experience, as they are playing in home conditions against a youthful but determined Tamil Nadu, who are in search of their third title. The southern state have reached the final eight times.

Former India paceman and Mumbai skipper Paras Mhambrey, who led Mumbai magnificently this season despite dismal performances of his top order, will be hoping that the likes of opener Wasim Jaffer, Vinayak Mane and Amol Mazumdar strike form in the title clash.

Mumbai's top order batting has been a worry, and it has been the middle and lower-middle order -- of Bhavin Thakkar, Nishit Shetty, Sairaj Bahutule, Ramesh Powar and Ajit Agarkar -- who have come to the rescue of the side time and again.

But Mumbai coach Chandrakant Pandit allayed all fears about the batting.

"The batting is confident now. I could see it in the way they were batting in the semi-final against Baroda. The confidence is coming back. The important thing is they are not getting out due to a bad shots or bad attitude.

"It is a big game and the weather conditions will be tough for everyone, but we have to be at our best. The two best teams are playing in the final and we will try to come out tops," said the former India stumper on the eve of the match.

The Mumbai team had two days' off after the semi-final against Baroda and are now refreshed and raring to go. It's been three years since Mumbai last made it to the final and this time they feel they can go all the way and win it.

Tamil Nadu's main strength is their batting. The likes of former India opener Sadagoppan Ramesh and Hemang Badani, and skipper S Suresh, S Sriram and S Sharath are all capable of staying at the wicket for long periods.

But Mhambery is not worried about it. He believes he has the bowlers to destroy any batting order. Ajit Agarkar, Aavishkar Salvi, Nilesh Kulkarni, Sairaj Bahutule and Mhambery himself make Mumbai's bowling attack one of the strongest in domestic cricket.

Pandit has been going about the preparations well, leaving nothing to chance. Before the semis against Baroda, he had his team bat against left-arm bowlers (the Baroda attack had Zaheer Khan and Irfan Pathan Junior, both left-arm bowlers). This time round, looking at the abundance of left-handed batsmen in the Tamil Nadu team, he had his bowlers bowling to left-handed batsmen.

"At the end of the day we do not want to regret anything," he added.

In 21-year-old Lakshmipathy Balaji, Tamil Nadu have a bowler who is capable of pushing Mumbai on the backfoot straightaway. The young seamer, with six consecutive five-wicket hauls, is raring to go after his fine show against Delhi in the semi-final.

"Balaji has been outstanding this season but everyone has contributed to the best of their abilities and that is why we are in the final," said Tamil Nadu coach B Arun.

Apart from Balaji, M R Sriniwas, and skipper S Suresh, the two spinners, Vidyut Sivaramakrishnan and D Dandapani, could make things pretty difficult for the Mumbai batsmen.

Arun also believes that as a team Tamil Nadu have the edge over Mumbai while former India middle-order bat Hemang Badani feels Tendulkar had made all the difference the last time the two sides met in the final three years ago.

"We are not in awe of their record in the final. They have played well but in the last few matches against them, I feel, we have had the upper hand."

The Wankhede wicket has always helped new-ball bowlers initially and the track for the final promises to be no different. If Balaji is let loose on the Mumbai top order batsmen, who are still struggling to regain form, the hosts could be in trouble. But, then, the Mumbai bowling could repeat the dose too.

The two umpires for the match are V K Chopra from Delhi and Narendra Menon from Madhya Pradesh while Bhairav Ganguly of Kolkata will be the BCCI's match referee.

As the two teams dispersed after their final work-out ahead of Sunday's match, one saw the two coaches wishing each other.

"May the best team win," they said.

Indeed, may it be so!.

The teams (from):

Mumbai: Paras Mhambrey (captain), Sairaj Bahutule (vice-capt), Wasim Jaffer, Vinayak Mane, Bhavin Thakkar, Amol Mazumdar, Nishit Shetty, Ramesh Powar, Vinayak Samant (wk), Ajit Agarkar, Aavishkar Salvi, Nilesh Kulkarni, Swapnil Hazare, Robin Morris and Vinit Indulkar.

Tamil Nadu: S Suresh (captain), S Ramesh, S Sriram, Hemang Badani, S Sharath, S Vasant Sarvanan, M R Sriniwas, L Balaji, Vidyut Sivaramakrishnan, D Dandapani, Raaju, S Badrinath, S J Gokulakrishnan, Dinesh Karthik, J R Madan Gopal and R Ramkumar.

Umpires: V K Chopra of Delhi and Narendra Menon of Madhya Pradesh.

Match referee: Bhairav Ganguly.

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