It is still early days in the Ranji Trophy and precisely the time when teams look to break away from the herd. Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra will strive to collect maximum points and move northwards on the standings when they face off in their Group ‘B’ encounter, beginning here on Saturday.

Tamil Nadu would be smarting at having conceded the first-innings lead to Karnataka in its previous game despite the cushion of 538 runs. While every batsman in the top six crossed 50, the bowling unit’s relative inexperience allowed Karnataka to walk out of the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium with three points.

With its first match against Odisha in Cuttack being affected by rain, Tamil Nadu has only two points from as many contests. A second home game in a row presents Tamil Nadu the opportunity to build on the positives gained versus Karnataka.

Murali Vijay’s presence

The presence of Murali Vijay, who has been released from India duty, will certainly lend an injection of vitality to an already potent batting order.

Tamil Nadu’s head coach V.B. Chandrasekhar said as much, although he declined to comment on whether that would mean K.B. Arun Karthick would be omitted.

“Vijay’s presence will make a difference. The Karnataka match would have settled the youngsters’ nerves. Our batting has always been dominant and it was nice to see [Baba] Aparajith coming good.

“The leg-spinner [M. Ashwin] is an exciting prospect and seamer M. Mohammed has been performing well too. A bowling all-rounder is the only option we don’t have.”

Chandrasekhar admitted there would be some pressure going into the match. “If the results take time to come, there will be some pressure on the players. But this team is aware of it and equipped to handle pressure. This will be a different surface and Maharashtra looks like a good batting unit.”

Confident of even tussle

Maharashtra, meanwhile, is coming out of a ‘bat’athon against Uttar Pradesh in Pune that produced 1433 runs without either side securing the first-innings advantage. Consequently its batsmen, particularly Kedar Jadhav, fresh from a record-breaking triple ton in the last match and 21-year-old skipper Rohit Motwani, have clocked plenty of time at the crease.

Coach Dermot Reeve, accompanied by his quirky exuberance, launched a lengthy monologue, hitting out at Uttar Pradesh captain Suresh Raina, who had criticised him for the dull nature of the Pune wicket.

“I didn’t prepare the wicket. If we hadn’t batted on till day three, we would have lost. That was the best fourth day wicket to bat on.

“It was a graveyard for bowlers. What do you think about players that don’t shake hands at the end of matches? You think that’s good behaviour?”

He felt “spin will play a big part” in Chennai and was confident of competing on equal terms with Tamil Nadu. “We’re just 11 human beings, taking on 11. We can still go through undefeated and win the Ranji trophy. We will,” said Reeve, adding that left-arm spinner Satyajit Bachav was included in the squad.

The teams (from): Tamil Nadu: L. Balaji (capt.), Abhinav Mukund, M. Vijay, K.B. Arun Karthick, S. Badrinath, K. Dinesh Karthik (w.k.), R. Prasanna, B. Aparajith, J. Kaushik, M. Ashwin, Malolan Rangarajan, M. Mohammed, V. Yomahesh, R. Aushik Srinivas, and S. Suresh Kumar.

Maharashtra: Rohit Motwani (capt. & w.k.), Ankit Bawne, Sangram Atitkar, Chirag Khurana, Virag Awate, Sachin Chaudhari, Akshay Darekar, Dominic Muthuswamy, Samad Fallah, Kedar Jadhav, Harshad Khadiwale, Shrikant Mundhe, Nikhil Paradkar, Anupam Sanklecha, Deepak Shilamkar, and Satyajit Bacchav.

Match starts at 9.30 a.m.

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