Experience against hunger in Ranji final
Thursday, January 19-23, Chennai
Start time 0930 (0400 GMT)
Rajasthan have Robin Bist, the highest run-maker this season. Tamil Nadu have Abhinav Mukund, the second highest run-getter. Rajasthan have three fast men, including the cunning Pankaj Singh, who is this year's third-highest wicket-taker. TN also have three fast men, with each one of them taking at least twenty wickets. Rajasthan's leading spinner, Vivek Yadav, has 17 wickets. TN have Aushik Srinivas with 20 victims. Both teams are lead by men who usually prefer to stay quiet, but are extremely determined leaders.
So there is not much that separates the Ranji finalists, at least on paper. If there is one thing that favours TN, more than the home advantage, then it is experience.
Not only do they have five international players among the ranks, but most of the TN squad has played a lot of league cricket in Chennai before graduating to the first-class level. In contrast most of the Rajasthan squad are yet to cut their teeth properly on the domestic circuit. The experience can tilt the balance only because TN have players who can handle pressure situations well, as Ramaswamy Prasanna showed against Mumbai in the semi-finals.
But unlike TN, who are making their first final in eight years and won their last Ranji Trophy in 1989, Rajasthan have nothing to prove. Following up from their historic run to the crown last year, the Rajasthan team management and their professional players have ensured that the team effectively deploys the various strategies and processes. They didn't lose their head despite having only five points in the pocket after the first five rounds of the group stage.
If they continue to hold their nerve, Rajasthan will join a select band of teams to have won the Ranji Trophy in successive years. Apart from Mumbai, only Maharashtra, Delhi and Karnataka have achieved this feat.
Tamil Nadu DDDDW (Most recent first)
Players to watch
Abhinav Mukund stands to gain a lot by performing at his home ground where he already has a double-century against Haryana, and a 95 in the quarter-final against Maharashtra. He needs 129 more runs to become the third TN player (after WV Raman and Sridharan Sriram) to achieve 1000 runs in a Ranji season. But the main motivation would be to perform against the best domestic seam bowling attack.
Abhinav could face his biggest hurdle in Pankaj Singh, who has been the best seamer of the Ranji season. With a sturdy run-up and healthy experience, Pankaj has stuck to a discipline approach this year to create the openings for his mates Rituraj Singh and Sumit Mathur.
Considering the wicket may play slow, Rajasthan may toy with the idea, even if briefly, of breaking their three-pronged fast-bowling attack in favour of a two-two combination. But with Vivek Yadav, the legspinner, being inconsistent, they might fall back on the attack that succeeded in the semi-final. They will also be reluctant to meddle with the combination of Pankaj, Rituraj and Mathur who are riding high on confidence after a series of match-winning spells.
Rajasthan (probable): 1 Aakash Chopra, 2 Vineet Saxena, 3 Hrishikesh Kaniktar (capt), 4 Robin Bist, 5 Rashmi Parida, 6 Puneet Yadav, 7 Dishant Yagnik (wk), 8 Rituraj Singh, 9 Gajendra Singh, 10 Pankaj Singh, 11 Sumit Mathur
On their part, TN are likely to retain the side that played the semi-finals against Mumbai.
Tamil Nadu (probable): 1 Abhinav Mukund, 2 Murali Vijay, 3 S Badrinath, 4 Dinesh Karthik (wk), 5 K Vasudevadas, 6 Ramaswamy Prasanna, 7 Yo Mahesh, 8 Sunny Gupta, 9 Lakshmipathy Balaji (capt), 10 Jagannathan Kaushik, 11 Aushik Srinivas
Pitch and conditions
The Chepauk pitch has a faint green cover but the grass is dry and there is a bald patch at one end. Also, it is understood that the pitch has not been rolled well so the bounce is likely to be low. The pitch behaviour is not expected to be any different from what was witnessed during the quarter-finals where the spinners got decent purchase. If anything, the surface is likely to be weary since this will be the third match to be played on it within a month. As for the conditions, the days are pleasant with the mercury climbing towards the 30 degree mark.
Stats and trivia
- Rituraj Singh has 22 wickets at 14.31 with three five-wicket hauls. He has the second highest five-wicket hauls this season, though he's played only three matches
- Rajasthan have 13 century stands with a highest of 398 between Robin Bist and Ashok Menaria against Railways. TN have only seven century stands with a highest of 223 against Gujarat
- TN have made the highest score in the season (698 v Gujarat) and conceded over 500 just once. Rajasthan have conceded 500-plus totals on four occasions while scoring 500-plus on three occasions themselves
- These teams have clashed four times in Ranji Trophy history, and the head-to-head is one-all with two drawn games
"In the past there was over-dependence on one or two individuals. That is no more the case. If we are pushed in to a corner, everyone knows his role, everyone stands up and helps us come out of a tough situation."
Lakshmipathy Balaji, Tamil Nadu captain, on how his team is geared for their first final in eight years
"Experience will count but finally it will be more important who will be more hungry."
Hrishikesh Kanitkar stresses that Tamil Nadu's experience won't disadvantage his side
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo