Having ensured their presence in the last eight, Tamil Nadu and Madhya Pradesh would approach their final group match at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium on Wednesday minus the anxiety of eleventh-hour jostling for quarterfinal berths that most other teams have to contend with.
That isn't to say the game is devoid of context. For the home side, which is perched atop Group B with 17 points, the clash with Madhya Pradesh (in second place with 16 points) would be an ideal test ahead of the knockout phase. Tamil Nadu's wholesome batting display has afforded it the flexibility to play five bowlers in the tournament thus far.
Abhinav Mukund (680 runs, avg. 136) has been an indomitable presence at the top, amassing two double centuries. S. Badrinath, who missed the first three games due to injury, scored a century in the last match. Dinesh Karthik (266), K. Shri Vasudevadas (237), and R. Prasanna (212) have contributed richly as well.
The bowling unit has acquired a fine-tuned look with pacers V. Yomahesh (18 wickets), J. Kaushik (12), and skipper Lakshmipathy Balaji (13) striking in unison. Young left-arm spinner R. Aushik Srinivas (15) has been at once frugal and incisive. Offie Sunny Gupta, Yomahesh and Balaji have also offered utility with their doughty lower-order batting.
With almost everything falling in place, would there be room for experimentation? Balaji hinted as much: “We are looking to improve our bench-strength. I hope the wicket will provide assistance to the bowlers. We will take a call on the final team combination in the morning.”
Madhya Pradesh, on the other hand, has rebounded well to win two matches after an eight-wicket loss to Baroda in its first game. Its strengths are identical to those of Tamil Nadu — robust batting and sturdy fast-bowling.
T.P. Sudhindra (34 wickets) has been a revelation and, along with Ishwar Pandey (15), he has forged a powerful pace-combine. Jalaj Saxena's off-breaks have yielded 10 scalps.
Naman Ojha (560 runs), Captain Devendra Bundela (335), and Mohnish Mishra (258) have been the batting mainstays. Coach Mukesh Sahni felt the wicket would help the seamers. “There is a bit of grass on the pitch and so there will be bounce. We might play Amarjit Singh; he is a very nippy fast bowler.”
If the teams live up to their billing, this top-table joust could eventually boil down to Tamil Nadu's flair versus Madhya Pradesh's resolve.
The teams: Tamil Nadu: L. Balaji (capt.), Abhinav Mukund, M. Vijay, S. Badrinath, K. Dinesh Karthik (wk), K. Shri Vasudevadas, R. Prasanna, B. Aparajith, M. Kaushik Gandhi, V. Yomahesh, J. Kaushik, R. Aushik Srinivas, Rahil S. Shah, Sunil Sam, Malolan Rangarajan.
Madhya Pradesh: Devendra Bundela (capt.), Zafar Ali, Abbas Ali, Murtaza Ali, Anand Rajan, Ankit Sharma, Udit Birla, Harpreet Singh, Mohnish Mishra, Naman Ojha (wk), Ishwar Pandey, Jalaj Saxena, Amit Sharma, T.P. Sudhindra, Amarjit Singh.
Keywords: Ranji Trophy