The Telegraph
Wednesday , January 29 , 2014
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A battle of equals in Ranji Trophy final

Kedar Jadhav

Hyderabad: High on confidence following their fairytale run this season, Maharashtra would be eyeing to break their 72-year title jinx when they square off with a formidable Karnataka in the summit clash of the Ranji Trophy, here, on Wednesday.

Maharashtra won the Ranji Trophy twice, but both their titles came during the pre-Independence era back in the 1939-40 and 1940-41 seasons.

It will be a real test for the Kedar Jadhavs and the Vijay Zols as they take on the seasoned campaigners in Ranganath Vinay Kumar and Abhimanyu Mithun, while bowlers Samad Fallah and Anupam Sanklecha would cross swords against the hard-hitting opener Robin Uthappa, a solid Lokesh Rahul and the dependable Karun Nair.

Maharashtra’s performance in this season’s Ranji Trophy has been exemplary as they entered the final after a hiatus of 21 years. They last played in the Ranji final in the 1992-93 edition, losing to Punjab.

Maharashtra have truly been the surprise package this time around. While their batsmen have been consistent, the pacers have provided them breakthroughs all through the season.

All of their top-five batsmen have scored more than 500 runs with Jadhav leading the tally with 1,074 runs, which includes five centuries.

Opener Harshad Khadiwale has 980 runs and three centuries to his credit, while India Under-19 captain Zol too has been among runs.

In fact, Maharashtra batsmen have so far accounted for 12 hundreds in this Ranji season, which certainly bodes well for the team.

If batting has been Maharashtra’s strong point, their bowling department should not be left far behind. Their pace trio — Srikanth Mundhe, Fallah and Sanklecha have all fired in unison. In fact, Fallah will be the man to watch out for after his 10-wicket haul against Bengal in the semi-final and his ability to swing the ball both ways.

In left-arm spinner Akshay Darekar, their highest wicket-taker so far, Maharashtra have a clever slow bowler who will be eager to exploit the slow and low Uppal pitch to the fullest.

Karnataka, on the other hand, start as favourites on paper and would be hoping to win their seventh Ranji title. The last time they won the Ranji Trophy was way back in 1998-99.

Karnataka, though, had come close to winning the title in 2009-10 where they lost by just six runs to Mumbai in a thrilling final.

Just like Maharashtra, Karnataka batsmen too have 13 centuries this season with Nair, Rahul and Manish Pandey scoring the bulk of the runs.

Nair is the one to watch out for, having smashed three consecutive centuries in Karnataka’s last three matches including the quarter final against Uttar Pradesh and the semi-final tie against Punjab.

Besides Nair and Pandey, the opening duo of Uthappa and Rahul's performances will also play a crucial role in Karnataka’s success.

With captain Vinay Kumar (22 wickets) and Mithun (36 wickets) in their line-up, Karnataka possess a commendable bowling attack as well.

Punjab got a feel of it in the semis and found the going to be really tough. It’s imperative that Maharashtra;s top-order batsmen get their act right and put up a resistance, especially towards the start of their innings.

As has been witnessed in the recent past, the ACA-VDCA Stadium pitch tends to offer a bit for the quicks in the morning session of Day I. So, the team batting first need to be a little more careful, at least for the first hour. It’s during this period that the pacers obtain some movement.