Ranji Trophy Super League 2008-09

An eye on Ranji - 5

Cricinfo staff
In a five-part preview series, Cricinfo profiles the Super League teams

In a five-part preview series, Cricinfo profiles the Super League teams for the 75th Ranji Trophy


You can trust the in-form Mohammad Kaif and Suresh Raina to put up the big scores for Uttar Pradesh © Cricinfo Ltd.
 

Uttar Pradesh

The enigma boys are at it again. Champions one season, just about avoiding the relegation the next, and almost winning the Ranji Trophy in the next. It took a superlative rearguard from Delhi to deny Uttar Pradesh the title last year, but it will take a few more consistent seasons for UP to genuinely make a transition from being backwaters to powerhouses.

Their contribution to the national teams - RP Singh, Suresh Raina, Praveen Kumar and RP Singh - is an endorsement to the cricketing revolution in the state, and despite the state. Their captain, Mohammad Kaif, too, has been a close outsider to the Indian team. Like Delhi, they have a coach who has just retired as a player - Gyanendra Pandey.

They would want to start off with a big win in their first game, against Andhra in Meerut, because after that their star players will be available to them sporadically, as this season clashes with big international matches - the England one-dayers start from November 14.

As the case has been for the last three years, no one knows what to expect from them. In those widely varied results, the personnel had not changed drastically.

What they did last season

Their last season was not dissimilar to their championship season. In 2005-06, they had four points from four matches, and were sitting pretty at the bottom of the table. Last season, they had eight from four, and again they were at the bottom of the table. Like in 2005-06, three big wins followed, and they were through to the semi-finals.

In the semi-final, they got a green top in Vadodara, which worked to their favour. Sudeep Tyagi, their new pace sensation, and Praveen Kumar, their seasoned pro, combined well to shot Saurashtra out for 127 and 113. Kaif helped them to marginally more than that.

They had a superb start to their final, too, at the Wankhede. After having scored 342, they had Delhi down to 36 for 4. Delhi recovered, but UP still managed a 52-run lead, only to squander it through some irresponsible batting in the second innings. A Gautam Gambhir special followed in a chase of 230 runs to stop the dramatic turnaround at its last step.

Kaif was their leading run-getter with 687 at 57.25, followed by Raina with 683. They were Nos 4 and 5 on the overall run-getters' list. But it was Tyagi who made the main difference, with 41 wickets at 21.63, in his debut season. Praveen, who was available for only six matches, made his contribution with 36 wickets at 16 apiece.

Men to watch

As usual there are lots to watch out for, depending on their availability and form. Tyagi is one of the lesser known ones: after a promising debut season, when it came to taking himself to the next level - the zonal games, or the IPL money and fame, he got injured. He played a match against Australia A, which might suggest he is fit again, but it will be interesting to see if he finds the form that form that made him such a success last year.

RP Singh, who has now become a frequent flier with the Indian team, might not be available for long. Raina would want to make Test claims, Chawla would want his place in the ODI side back, and Praveen would look to cement his place in the ODI side.

Punjab

Punjab clearly are yet to recover from the ICL exodus that saw 12 players defect to the unofficial league as they just about managed to avoid the relegation to Plate with an outright victory in their final league encounter. And to think they were the runners-up only three years back. Inthikab Alam was the coach then but subsequently, though, Punjab have had two more coaches. Arun Kumar, former Punjab wicket-keeper, will be the third coach in as many years and he replaces Gurcharan Singh who failed to provide any sort of impetus to a weakened team.

Kumar's familiarity with the players was the main reason behind his appointment, which probably might help in the team bonding. That and the presence of Yuvraj Singh, who is part of the squad for the first two games at least, should help Punjab start on a positive note in a tough season where they play a solitary home game.

What they did last season

Despite having home advantage in five games Punjab won just one game in a must-win situation against Orissa. Uday Kaul's two fighting centuries in the initial half of the season had gained first-innings points against Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. Against UP, VRV Singh played a pivotal role with a seven-wicket haul in the first innings, which denied the visitors the lead. But even if the batsmen managed decent, if not huge, totals Punjab's bowling failed to show any consistency. VRV only played four games and peaked in two of them; Manpreet Gony was more of harmless trundler and Gagandeep Singh toiled hard but sometimes without much luck. The bowling clicked against Orissa, reducing them to 50 for 4, but the batsmen failed miserably to hand over the advantage. However, VRV snatched it right back with a superb five-wicket haul to set up an easy target to chase.

As for the performers Uday Kaul was the only batsman to cross the 500-mark (503). VRV Singh, in and out due to his injury concerns, managed to still bag the maximum wickets, 15, with Gagandeep and Manpreet sharing the second spot with 13.

Men to watch

With VRV still recuperating from his ankle injury and not expected to play at least in the first half Gagandeep and Gony will be the strike bowlers. Not to forget Siddarth Kaul, who even if green, has a good enough pace to trouble the bat. He showed that during the Under-19 World Cup final against South Africa. India needed two wickets, their opponent needed 16 runs off the last over and Kaul cleaned them up without much trouble.

Andhra

A sixth place last year despite the loss of Venugopal Rao and Syed Sahabuddin showed Andhra are no pushovers. They have gone in for more new blood this season: four new players and a new coach in MV Narasimha Rao have been recruited. And Rao is confident that his young bunch can do more damage this season.

"We have many guys from Under-22 division, our fast bowling looks good with P Vijaykumar, Kalyankrishna, Israel Raju and Sharat Babu. Our batting too is in good hands with Hemal Watekar and the two young talent in AG Pradeep, and B Sumanth." They have a tough start against Uttar Pradesh but as Rao says, and as the recent history shows, Andhra could give a good fight to any team on their day. The spin department is a worry, though, as Andhra have lost the services of Shankara Rao, the left-arm orthodox who picked 20 wickets last year, this season due to a accident. They will look to M Suresh, the legspinning allrounder to do the job.

What they did last season

Watekar, the opener, hit two hundreds to get Andhra off to a comfortable draw against Punjab and his opening partner Prasad Reddy reprised that effort to earn another draw against Uttar Pradesh. They won their next game against Orissa but suffered heartbreak against Hyderabad in a low-scoring thriller . They went on to draw against Baroda and beat Bengal but that loss against Hyderabad proved crucial in the final-four ranking.

Men to watch

Watch out for the openers, Watekar and Reddy, who amassed 909 runs between themselves last season. Kalyankrishna and Vijaykumar, who grabbed 20 and 21 wickets respectively, will lead the bowling attack.

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