Ranji Trophy 2013-14

All eyes on Delhi's Sehwag and Gambhir

ESPNcricinfo staff

October 26, 2013

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Delhi: The Sehwag and Gambhir show?

By Vishal Dikshit

Where they finished last season
After losing (3) more matches than they won (2), Delhi finished fourth in group B behind Uttar Pradesh, Baroda and Karnataka. Despite enforcing a follow-on against Vidarbha in their last match of the season, Delhi fell three wickets short of a quarter-final berth.

Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag at the nets, Ahmedabad, November 13, 2012
Gambhir and Sehwag: searching for a way back © AFP

Big Picture
Since winning the title in 2007-08, Delhi have qualified for the knockouts only once - in 2009-10. The 2011-12 season was particularly poor for them, when they won only one match and finished second from bottom in Group B. Last season, none of their batsmen or bowlers were among the top 15 run-scorers or wicket-takers: Mithun Manhas was their highest run scorer and Sumit Narwal got them the most wickets, and both players are aged over 30. This season, they will be without Shikhar Dhawan for the beginning of the season, if not for most of it.

However, that's not to say they'll be short on star openers - unless they make unexpected comebacks to the Indian Test team, starting with the West Indies series, they should be available for Delhi through the season. And with both likely to be trying their hardest to work their way back into top form and earn a national recall, that augurs well for Delhi.

Delhi have a new coach in Sanjeev Sharma, who was promoted from assistant coach to coach because Vijay Dahiya wasn't available due to his IPL commitments. They also have a more-than-decent pace attack led by Ashish Nehra and comprising Parvinder Awana, Pawan Suyal, Rajat Bhatia and Sumit Narwal, who will have to make up for an inexperienced spin attack. Questions remain however, over how much the 34-year-old Nehra will play; he has said he may not be able to play back-to-back matches.

Coach Sharma is of the view that the conditions in Delhi will make the seamers and fast bowlers critical to the team's chances. "In the conditions we have, especially in the months of November and December, fast bowlers perform very well," he told ESPNcricinfo. "Seventy per cent of the bowling will happen after 10-15 November, so with the wickets and the moisture in the pitches here and in other parts of north India, like Punjab, we depend on our fast bowlers."

Key players
Still a part of the India squad at the beginning of the domestic season last year, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir will begin this season in hopes of making it to the national team once again. Even though Gambhir has two recent first-class hundreds, one against West Indies A and the other against Gloucestershire, his record for Essex during his short county stint, with 239 runs from seven innings at 34.14, wasn't exhilarating.

Sehwag, on the other hand, has hardly played any first-class matches since his last Test, against Australia, in February. In two innings against West Indies A he produced scores of 7 and 38 in the middle order before rain in the Duleep Trophy final didn't give him a chance to bat. He did not opt for a county stint and neither did he go to France to work on his fitness like India's other senior discards. A new season might be their last chance to make it back to the national team, whether in the top order or middle. There's no saying whether, by some luck, they'd make it to the home Tests against West Indies when the team is picked on October 29. If they don't, the runs will have to flow this Ranji season for them to state their case.

Click here for the full squad.


Gujarat: Can they find consistency this year?

By Rachna Shetty

Where they finished
Fourth in Group A, behind Punjab, Saurashtra and Mumbai.

Manpreet Juneja played the lone hand with 70, India A v West Indies A, 1st unofficial Test, 4th day, Mysore, September 28, 2013
A lot will depend on youngsters like Manpreet Juneja, who had found form for India A recently © BCCI

Big Picture
All through the group stage in Ranji Trophy last year, Gujarat were in with a chance of making it to the knockouts from Group A. At crucial junctures, however, their campaign seemed to run out of steam. It's a weakness that their new coach, Vijay Patel, is well aware of and one that he says the team has worked hard on addressing in the off-season.

"Our major problem was that we lost our bowlers towards the end of the season last year," Patel said. "But we have addressed that this year. We started preparations for this season after August, in spite of the weather in Ahmedabad, and recently played a four-day game against Baroda as part of our preparations."

Among the bowlers to watch out for, Patel pointed out pacer Bhargav Merai and spinners Samit Gohel, Chirag Gandhi and Jesal Karia. Gujarat have had some of their players - Bhavin Thaker and Avi Barot - choosing to play for other teams in the lead-up to the season. Patel, who returns to the team as a coach, replacing Mukund Parmar, brushed away the transfers, saying the side was a settled unit. "There was a lot of competition to finalise this squad," Patel said. "Last season, whenever youngsters, like Smit Patel, were given a chance, they performed and that has only been good for us."

Players to watch
Gujarat's batting has a good mix of seniors like captain Parthiv Patel - their leading run-getter in last year's tournament - and Venugopal Rao, but the focus will also be on youngsters like Smit Patel and Manpreet Juneja. Juneja, in particular, hit some form in recent games for India A, scoring 193 against New Zealand A in a four-day game, followed by half-centuries against West Indies A in the four-day game in Mysore.

Another key player for Gujarat is Rakesh Dhurv. The left-arm spinner was the leading wicket-taker for Gujarat last year - 36 wickets in eight games at an average of 25.55. His experience will be important in leading a young Gujarat attack.

Click here for the full squad.


Odisha: Underdogs seek to upset

By Kanishkaa Balachandran

Where they finished last season
Sixth place in Group B.

Biplab Samantray drives down the ground, Pune Warriors v Sunrisers Hyderabad, IPL, Pune, April 17, 2013
Biplab Samantray is one of the more recognisable names in a low-profile team © BCCI

Big Picture
One of the more low-profile teams on the Ranji circuit, Odisha struggled last season to push for a position in the playoffs. A team lacking star players won just two games, though it was a marginal improvement from the 2011-12 season in which they failed to win a single game and finished at the bottom of the table. They began last season with a rained-out draw against Tamil Nadu, lost by ten wickets to Delhi but their campaign gained mileage with two consecutive wins against Haryana and Karnataka and at the end of that round, Odisha were on top of the table in Group B.

That was followed by a draw against Maharashtra, and they failed to consolidate their position. Their batting struggled in the three following games as the side failed to pass 200 in six innings. Even a target of 145 against Uttar Pradesh was out of reach as they ended their Ranji season folding for 101. Debashis Mohanty, the former India fast bowler who is the Odisha coach, acknowledged that the batting was biggest problem but added that the team played "positive cricket" in order to push for results.

The team now has a new captain in Biplab Samantray, who takes over from Natraj Behera. The squad's practice in the lead-up to their first game against Punjab was interrupted by heavy rains in the state but Mohanty said the players had begun preparations well in advance and was confident the team would be well prepared.

Key players
Odisha has produced less than a handful of players who have been selected for India, but from this squad, one of the more recognisable names who could put himself on the selectors' radar is Biplab Samantray. The middle-order batsman and medium-pacer has been a part of the Sunrisers Hyderabad squad in the IPL. Samantray was among only two centurions for Odisha in the previous Ranji season and he ended the season with 18 wickets. Samantray has featured in the East Zone team and this season is a chance to push for higher honours, such as the India A squad.

After Debashis Mohanty, the other Mohanty making waves is Basant Mohanty, the right-arm seamer. Basant was the team's leading wicket-taker last season with 33 wickets at an average of 16.27 and a miserly economy rate of 1.91. His only five-wicket haul sent Haryana crashing to 66 in Rohtak to bring up the team's first win of the season. More will be expected of him this season.

Click here for the full squad.


Vidarbha: Developing side aiming for glory

By Amol Karhadkar

Where they finished
Fifth in Group B, one point behind the third qualifier from the group, with two outrights wins and six draws.

Umesh Yadav picked up early wickets once again, Australia v India, 1st Test, Melbourne, 3rd day, December 28, 2011
The more Umesh Yadav is available for Vidarbha, the better it is for the team © Getty Images

Big Picture
Vidarbha started the previous season with an outright victory against Haryana, and added another six points to their kitty in the penultimate round against Odisha. Still, the most low-profile of the three teams that hail from Maharashtra, Vidarbha was never really in contention for a spot in the knockouts. Besides the two victories, their only notable performance was against Tamil Nadu, when they grabbed three points for the first-innings lead.

A look at the batting and bowling charts reveals it was a sort of miracle that Vidarbha ended up in the middle of points chart. Neither a batsman nor a bowler from Sairaj Bahutule's team featured in the top-25 run-getters and wicket-takers. While Faiz Fazal was the only batsman to aggregate more than 500 runs, Sandeep Singh was the most successful bowler with 27 scalps.

Perhaps, the numbers are enough to justify Bahutule's claim that "playing as a unit" is Vidarbha's biggest strength. At the same, Bahutule, who has taken over as coach after retiring from first-class cricket at the end of last year's Ranji Trophy, realises the team needs to perform more consistently. In order to strengthen the batting unit, Vidarbha have replaced Shiv Sundar Das with his former Orissa team-mate Rashmi Parida, who is renowned for holding the innings together.

Even though the Ranji league stage will only end in the new year, Vidarbha's fortunes will be clear midway through the round robin stage, as they play all four of their home games early in the campaign. If the team doesn't impress in its home outings, they may well be fighting to avoid relegation as they go on the road against the likes of Mumbai, Punjab and Delhi.

Players to watch
Umesh Yadav will be keen to cement his place in the Test side and regain his place in ODIs with a strong showing for his home team. The more he is available for Vidarbha, the better it would be for the team since he can work in tandem with left-arm seamer Shrikant Wagh, who had been rewarded with an India A place during off-season. And Rashmi Parida's presence might spur on not only the young home-grown batsmen but also the other import, former India batsman Hemang Badani who had a mediocre last season with Vidarbha.

Team speak
"We are a developing side. The boys are getting a taste of the elite division. Hopefully this year, we won't just be competitive but we will be contenders as well."
Sairaj Bahutle, the Vidarbha coach

Click here for the full squad.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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