Star-studded Delhi start off as favourites
The third Mohammad Nissar Trophy, the annual fixture between the champions of the premier first-class tournaments in India and Pakistan, kicks off at the Feroz Shah Kotla in New Delhi on Monday, with Ranji Trophy champions Delhi taking on the Quaid-e-Azam winners Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited (SNGPL). No team from Pakistan has won the tournament, with Uttar Pradesh and Mumbai winning the earlier editions.
On paper, the Delhi side appears much stronger, with the likes of Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Ishant Sharma available for selection. SNGPL in comparison lacks in star value, with Misbah-ul-Haq the only prominent player who holds a regular position in the Pakistan side. Mohammad Hafeez, the captain, and Samiullah Niazi are the three Pakistan players who have international experience.
Vijay Dahiya, the Delhi coach, cautioned against taking this fixture lightly and hoped a good performance here will serve them well for a hectic season up ahead. Delhi play the Rest of India for the Irani Trophy starting in Vadodara on September 24, before the Ranji Trophy which commences on November 3.
"Matches like these are very important and we have to take them seriously. Our season is starting ahead of other teams so it will be good for us," Dahiya said after a practice session. "It will also help the team gain confidence at the start of the season. But we have to play aggressively."
Dahiya expected the pitch to behave like a typical Kotla track, which normally assists seamers on the first day. He didn't name the final XI, but stated that Delhi will field three seamers, a spinner and an allrounder in Rajat Bhatia. He was also pleased with the return of the left-arm seamer Ashish Nehra, who's back in the reckoning for Delhi after missing the entire 2007-08 season with an ankle injury. He was picked up by the Mumbai Indians IPL franchise and performed reasonably in the Twenty20 tournament, taking 12 wickets in 14 appearances at an average of 29.
"Ashish is also fully fit and is raring to go," Dahiya said. "He has been out of the team because of injuries and not because of performance. Ishant is looking well and he is very eager to play as well."
Hafeez hoped the results of the previous editions of the series would motivate his team-mates to chase their first title. He admitted his team didn't feel weighed down by the pressure of facing a side with as many as seven internationals. "We are the champions of Pakistan and I hope my boys will give their best," Hafeez said. "I am happy with the team's combination. The boys have huge potential and I hope we will continue with our good showing."
His team-mate, Misbah, felt the team was shaping up well. "We have been training hard, so I don't think lack of match practice will be a problem for us," Misbah said. "I personally feel that everything is going well and lets hope that we're going to perform well there."
The yearly clash, which commenced in 2006, is held on a home and away basis. Uttar Pradesh defeated Sialkot in Dharamsala to claim the inaugural title, while Mumbai took on Karachi Urban in Karachi the following season and regained the trophy based on a first-innings lead.
Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited: Mohammad Hafeez (capt), Adil Raza, Adnan Akmal (wk), Asad Ali, Azhar Shafiq, Imran Ali, Imran Khalid, Khurram Shehzad, Misbah-ul-Haq, Saleem Mughal, Samiullah Niazi, Tauqeer Hussain, Umar Akmal and Yasir Arafat
Delhi: Virender Sehwag (capt), Gautam Gambhir, Aakash Chopra, Mayank Tehlan, Mithun Manhas, Virat Kohli, Rajat Bhatia, Puneet Bisht (wk), Ishant Sharma, Pradeep Sangwan, Ashish Nehra, Chetanya Nanda, Amit Bhandari, Narender Singh, Gaurav Chhabra