The prospect of an intriguing battle between talented Tamil Nadu and a humble Haryana looms large over the next four days when their battle for a place in the Ranji Trophy semifinals begins here on Friday.
Tamil Nadu begins as an obvious favourite. It has the players with experience to carry the team through to the next stage. It is one side that has quite consistently reached the knockout phase of the National championship in the past decade.
However, this is also the stage where it has faltered more often than not. This time, it is up against a team which got promoted to the Super league and straightaway made the knockout. Tamil Nadu will have to deal with the cold, windy conditions at the Choudhary Bansi Lal Stadium here in Lahli.
The stadium has hosted five of Haryana's home matches this season. That's one of the reasons why three of Haryana's seamers Joginder Sharma (29 wickets), Sachin Rana and Sanjay Budhwar (16 each) have been among the more successful bowlers in the competition this season.
It is no secret that Tamil Nadu players dislike like such conditions. Hemang Badani knows this for a fact. The stylish left-hander, now in his first season as a professional for Haryana, was part of the Tamil Nadu team for several seasons until the lure of ICL took him away four seasons ago. “Playing against Tamil Nadu gives me with mixed feelings. I've always played for Tamil Nadu with pride. But I am professional enough to understand that it is only a game and not much needs to be attached to it.
“The seaming conditions in this part of the country make it difficult for the batsmen especially in the morning session. I have got used to these conditions because I've been here for a couple of months now. I am sure, the Tamil Nadu boys will struggle with the chilly conditions here,” said Badani.
Tamil Nadu can take some confidence from the fact that Baroda won here by an innings and Punjab gained the first innings lead against the host this season. Tamil Nadu, too, has the resources to turn the tables on Haryana.
Under wicketkeeper-captain Dinesh Karthik, the line-up involving the likes of S. Badrinath, Abhinav Mukund, Arun Karthik, R. Sathish, among others, Tamil Nadu's batting has the muscle to counter Haryana's medium-pacers. The bowling looks adequate with the experienced L. Balaji, C. Ganapathy, R. Ashwin and Suresh Kumar in its line-up.
Haryana is silently optimistic since it considers the conditions here, in the last week of the year, are hugely in its favour. Since Tamil Nadu has so far played on flat tracks, its players are likely to take time to settle down.
As Haryana Coach Ashwini Kumar put it, “no one expects us to win. Even if we lose, we'll have the satisfaction of being in the Super league for another season.”
Keywords: Ranji Trophy