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December 1, 2008
Cricket returns to Mumbai on Tuesday, offering the city a chance to take its mind off the tragedy and trauma of the past week with a Ranji Trophy match, deferred from November 29 in the wake of the attacks, between the hosts and Hyderabad. One bit of good news for Mumbai is that Hyderabad's VVS Laxman, who made a double-century in the previous game, has been ruled out of the match due to a heel injury.
The teams go into the match with contrasting results in the previous round: while Hyderabad earned first-innings points against Rajasthan at home, Mumbai were humbled by Saurashtra in Rajkot. They were made to follow on and, though they picked up a point after conceding the first-innings lead, it was a rude wake-up call for Mumbai.
That has left Mumbai with plenty to worry about. First, the various opening combinations - two in four games - have failed to provide a solid platform. Also a concern is the inability of their pace bowlers to swerve the ball in the air - something Balkrishna Jadeja of Saurashtra, who took six wickets in the match, profited from.
The first response from Mumbai, who lead Group A with 15 points, is to replace Sahil Kukreja at the top with the Vinayak Mane.
Wasim Jaffer, the Mumbai captain, said it was a clear signal to his team about improving their performance. "Sahil has been struggling in the last few games and we have failed to get a good opening partnership," Jaffer said.
Mane's inclusion, however, can still prove to be a gamble - the veteran opener last played in the 2007 Nissar Trophy while his previous Ranji innings came two years back. A budding opener then, he was unfortunate to suffer a serious shoulder injury after a fall.
However, Jaffer didn't appear to be shying from experiments. "We want to try out a few things before the knockout stage," he said.
Ajit Agarkar returns to the squad in place of Murtuza Hussain while Rohit Sharma will replace Hiken Shah in the middle order. Agarkar sat sit out the Saurashtra game with a viral fever while Sharma was involved in the England ODI series.
Agarkar's return could prove crucial in the seamer-friendly conditions at the MCA Bandra Kurla ground, which will host its debut first-class match. With relatively open surroundings and cloudy weather, bowlers are expected to get significant movement in the air. Understandably, both teams are likely to play at least three seamers.
Agarkar will share the new ball with Dhaval Kulkarni, as Usman Malvi fills the slot for the third seamer. The veteran pair of Ramesh Powar and Sairaj Bahutule is likely to complete the five-man bowling attack for the hosts.
Sachin Tendulkar and Zaheer Khan won't be playing this game but Jaffer said the pair could be included in future games. "We are in a good position now but if we need them in a tight situation I will call and speak to them."
MP Arjun, SM Shoaib and Ashwin Yadav are the front-runners for Hyderabad in the fast-bowling attack. But Jadeja's success against Mumbai in Rajkot might tempt them to include Abdul Khader, the left-arm medium pacer. Pragyan Ojha's shoulder injury while fielding in the Cuttack ODI against England will allow Lalit Mohan to be the lone specialist spinner for the visitors.
The biggest loss for Hyderabad, currently fourth on the points table, will be Laxman's absence after he failed to recover from the heel injury picked up during his double century last week. The injury forced him to use a runner during the last hour of his innings. "The injury was aggravated against Rajasthan and the physio said it would take at least a couple of weeks to heal," Kanwaljeet Singh, the Hyderabad coach, said.
However, Kanwaljit remained positive despite losing two national team players. "We don't go by names. We are positive," he said.
In the four games so far Hyderabad have managed to fetch points on the basis of first-innings lead in three games - Delhi, Orissa and Rajasthan. Jaffer acknowledged the strength of his opponents, who he believed, had been consistent despite the absence of Laxman and Ojha in the previous games.
"They have showed they are not reliant on the big name players. We need to play the way we played in our first three games," he said.
Mumbai (from): Wasim Jaffer (capt), Vinayak Mane, Ajinkya Rahane, Amol Muzumdar, Rohit Sharma, Sairaj Bahutule, Ajit Agarkar, Vinayak Samant (wk), Ramesh Powar, Usman Malvi, Dhaval Kulkarni
Hyderabad (from): Arjun Yadav (capt), T Suman, Ravi Teja, Rushi Raj, Anoop Pai, Abhinav Kumar (wk), Ahmed Qhadri, SM Shoaib, Lalit Mohan, Ashwin Yadav/Abdul Khader, MP Arjun
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at CricinfoFeeds: Nagraj Gollapudi
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