Ranji semi-finals offer interesting match-ups
With the Ranji Trophy semi-finals slated to begin on January 16, the excitement for the teams preparing for the same has begun. Indian domestic giants Mumbai take on a very impressively performing Services team at the latter's home ground at Palam in Delhi. In the other semi-final Saurashtra will take on Punjab who have been a formidable team right from the first game they played this season.
Punjab's performance has been so strong that they were sure qualifiers for the quarter-finals by the time they had played the first four of their eight league games. Saurashtra on the other hand have benefited greatly through their star batsmen Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravindra Jadeja.
In important games like these it matters even more whether you play home or away. Particularly for Services, it will matter a great deal that they are playing at home. The fact that they are the less experienced side means that if they had been playing away in Mumbai, it would have meant not just facing the superior might of Mumbai but also playing in conditions that they are not used to playing in. Pitches in Mumbai are vastly different in terms of pace, spin and bounce compared to pitches in Delhi. Also in Mumbai, the ball swings invariably in the morning and the after tea sessions while the middle session is the best to bat.
Playing in Delhi will mean that the conditions will be suited to the local team and that the Mumbaikars will have to acclimatise very quickly to the cold weather and also the condition of the pitch which is quite different. Winning the toss for Services will be a major advantage as it will mean that they will get to stay in their comfort zone at the commencement the 1st days play and so be better able to set the tone for the rest of the game.
What the stand-in skipper Soumya Swain needs to do is to make sure that he removes all the pressure off his team by letting them know that they don't need to prove anything to anyone and that the pressure to win is more on the Mumbai side. Mumbai have a reputation to protect. With this in mind it will be easier for the underdogs to trust their abilities and treat this game as a great opportunity to do well.
As far as the other semi final goes, Saurashtra don't have a great home advantage as Rajkot is a very good batting pitch and the Punjab batsmen will be as comfortable batting on it as the home boys. Though both teams have very strong batting line-ups, Saurashtra will miss Pujara and Jadeja who are doing national duty in the ODIs against England. Both have been scoring heavily for their state side and have triple tons to their names this season. This is bound to be a setback for the home team. On the other hand Punjab are playing to their full strength and their top five batters have been amongst runs throughout the season. They will take heart from this fact and will be pretty optimistic of their chances to come out on top. What's more, they have a good seam attack and Harbhajan Singh to lead the spin effort.
Where Saurashtra can be better is in the bowling and fielding departments. With their knowledge of the pitch conditions, Saurashtra would know the right lines and lengths to bowl to gain the maximum benefit. As a bowler you know that every pitch has a certain length and line that if bowled to gives maximum results. Punjab on the other hand would do well to learn about the line and length ideal for this pitch very early in the game. If they can do that then they have a distinct advantage. Otherwise it doesn't take much time for the game to get away from you very quickly.
In important games at any level, it's a given that the senior and more experienced players have to carry the burden of expectations on their shoulders. This also helps the young bucks to be at ease and focus on just being their natural selves. It will be the same for these games. In this regard Mumbai have Sachin Tendulkar, Ajit Agarkar and Wasim Jaffer to guide them. Services would look up to Yashpal Singh to come to the fore in this all important game.
As far as Saurashtra and Punjab are concerned Shitansu Kotak and Harbhajan will have to step up. Kotak, a great performer for Saurashtra over the years as a batsman, will have dreams of playing a Ranji Trophy final and winning it if possible. For him that would be the fulfillment of a long held dream. Harbhajan, though he has experienced major highs playing for India, will be keen to show everyone what a positive influence he has been to the team this season. He has led Punjab team in many of their games this season and it would be a great way to cap off the season with a Ranji Trophy in the cabinet.
More about Hrishikesh Kanitkar
Hrishikesh Kanitkar is a former Test and ODI player for India, and a veteran batsman on the domestic cricket circuit. He captained Rajasthan to consecutive Ranji Trophy titles in 2010-11 and 2011-12.
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