Punjab start firm favourites at Mohali
North Zone league toppers Punjab will be hoping to extend their amazing winning streak this season to six successive wins when they take on Central Zone league toppers Rajasthan in the five day prequarterfinal match of the Ranji Trophy which starts at the Punjab Cricket Association Stadium in Mohali from Saturday.
The hosts, under the shrewd and able captaincy of Vikram Rathour, have had a remarkable run in the championship with four outright wins and a victory by 199 runs in the fifth game. On the other hand, Mewar Trophy winners Rajasthan will bank upon the experience of skipper Gagan Khoda and 20-year-old Vineet Saxena who's been having a great time with the bat and tops the batting averages for his team. Khoda too is in good nick with a triple century against South Zone in the Duleep Trophy last month.
However it will be the Punjab batting line-up which may be a cause of worry for the Rajasthan team. Young guns Dinesh Mongia and Reetinder Sodhi fired on all cylinders in the previous matches and Rathour, Ravneet Ricky and Manish Sharma have also scored tons. Mongia has already struck a triple century against J&K and averages well over 70 from a total of six innings besides some superb knocks in the Duleep Trophy, Challenger Trophy and against the Aussies too at the Kotla.
Rajasthan's bowlers will only be hoping that volcano Yuvraj Singh, lying dormant for quite some time now, does not explode. Yuvraj, who scored 8 and 20 in his only Ranji Trophy outing this season against Delhi, will be hoping to click before the 'five wise men' sit again to select the Indian team for the one-day series against Australia.
The hosts, however, will be missing the services of Harbhajan Singh and Sharandeep Singh who will be doing national duty in the second Test against Australia at Kolkata. With as many as 28 wickets in his kitty, Harbhajan has been one of the leading wicket-takers in the tourney this year. Sandeep Sawal and Babloo Kumar (who'll be making his debut in the Ranji Trophy) will lead the Punjab spin attack in their absence.
The match will be played on the same 'green-top' wicket used in the Duleep Trophy match between North Zone and West Zone in January. Keeping the seamer friendly wicket in mind, Rathour has decided to go into the match with 3 medium pacers in Gagandeep Singh, Vineet Kumar and Reetinder Sodhi. The track is expected to break up and give some assistance to spinners later on. Meanwhile Kuldeep Singh of Rajasthan reported sick of food poisoning on Friday and is not expected to play the tie. Khoda will be announcing the playing eleven on Saturday.
The teams: Punjab : Vikram Rathour (captain), Ravneet Ricky, Yuvraj Singh, Pankaj Dharmani, Dinesh Mongia, Reetinder Sodhi, Munish Sharma, Sandeep Sawal, Gagandeep Singh, Vineet Kumar and Babloo Kumar.
Rajasthan : Gagan Khoda (captain), Nikhil Doru, Vineet Saxena, Rahul Kanwat, P. Krishankumar, Saket Bhatia, Kuldeep Singh, Anshu Jain, Rohit Jhalani, Anoop Dave, Kishan Chaudhary and Parmod Yadav.
Umpires : Tej Handu and S.D. Ranade (both from Pune).