Laggards look to leap ahead in Chennai
Baroda enter their bout with Tamil Nadu, one of the premier batting sides of the Ranji Trophy, with depleted reserves in batting and bowling departments. Seamer Munaf Patel has been rested and senior batsman Ambati Rayudu's services will not be available either in the sixth round match in Chennai. Tamil Nadu are right in the middle of Group B, after having drawn all four of their matches, while Baroda languish in seventh with two losses.
Munaf, who is nursing a niggle, has been kept on ice to ensure his availability for Baroda's next game against Railways. An understandable precaution considering the pitch at MA Chidambaram stadium rarely presents an inviting sight to fast bowlers. The last match played here was dubbed a "batathon" by WV Raman, the Tamil Nadu coach, as both his side and Saurashtra tucked into 500-plus first-innings scores.
This season marked Munaf's return to first-class cricket after two years and his career has been pockmarked with injuries. He has only played 11 Ranji Trophy games in the past six years but was fit enough to exhibit a workhorse-like performance against Uttar Pradesh, giving away only 37 runs in his 25 overs while claiming a wicket as well. On a traditionally unhelpful pitch for bowlers, Munaf's experience might have benefited his younger peers. Seamer Murtuja Vahora, who was their second-best wicket-taker in 2012, and left-arm spinner Bhargav Bhatt, who picked up a five-for in Baroda's last match, will have to lead the way.
News from the batting front was better with the captain Yusuf Pathan looking forward to his players getting some runs under their belts after playing under difficult conditions so far in the tournament. Three weeks ago, Ranjitkumar Mali, the Railways seamer, tore through Baroda with eight wickets in the first innings to set up an innings win at Moti Bagh Stadium. Two weeks later, 35 wickets fell in the first two days of Baroda's match against Madhya Pradesh but Yusuf's quickfire century in the second innings revived the home side and orchestrated their first outright win of the season.
That lifted them from them from the base of the table to seven points, one behind their opponents this week. Tamil Nadu seemed quite a relaxed outfit at their training session, epitomised by Dinesh Karthik's jovial predictions about the match as he passed his coach who was facing a ring of mics. Raman wore a smile in response as he continued fielding questions. Coming in second against Saurashtra despite putting up a formidable total looked the last thing on the mind of the home side.
"You can keep thinking about the last match or the last season or last year, but in cricket, it is important to have a convenient memory," he said.
Tamil Nadu haven't had the benefit of an outright victory this season. In fact, the last instance of that happening was in November 2012. Their batting has ample resources with Abhinav Mukund and B Aparajith showing tremendous form and the reliable S Badrinath to man the middle order, and has generally masked a limited bowling attack. L Balaji, the captain, has not taken a five-wicket haul in four years. Sunil Sam, who had to miss out on the last game, is yet to get his maiden five-for and the third seamer Aswin Crist is in his debut season and averages 62.
Success in the longer format hinges on picking up 20 wickets, but Raman would not be drawn into the debate. "Speaking of outright victories is all well and good and they are certainly not harmful, but the important thing is when you go out there you need to read the game and respond to situations. In a four-day match, you'll have to do well for around 75% of the match. We have had some good individual performances so far, but we are looking to put together a good show overall."
After the interview Raman made a short inspection of the pitch but was not forthcoming with his thoughts on it.
Chennai had received some rain earlier in the week and scattered thundershowers are predicted over the entire duration of the game owing to a low-pressure region formed in the Bay of Bengal. But its impact on the city is expected to be minimum.