Special Correspondent

CHENNAI: Jolly Rovers will lock horns with Grand Slam in the TNCA first-division cricket final for the Raja of Palayampati shield at the CPT-IP ground from Sunday.

Rovers, with its formidable batting line-up, will deservedly start the three-day match as the favourite, but it will underestimate Grand Slam at its peril.

Grand Slam has had a remarkable second season after a difficult first year. Under the astute leadership of J.R. Madanagopal, the young side has bothered fancied teams, ousting defending champion Vijay CC in the semifinal.

A turnaround

Madanagopal said the improvement in batting had driven the turnaround.

“We wanted a strong opening partnership, and Arun Karthick, who didn’t have the best of times last season, turned it around. We brought Thalaivan (Sargunam), a solid opener who can grind it out. Suresh (Kumar) has matured a lot as well.”

Suresh (744 runs in 12 innings), Karthick (732 runs in 12 innings), and Sargunam (730 runs in 12 innings) have contributed important runs, allowing Grand Slam to secure the first innings-lead in a majority of its league matches.

The captain, with 501 runs in 10 innings, has leant the batting unit experience.

“Our bowling has continued to be good,” said Madanagopal. “I think we have the attack to bowl Rovers out. (Seamers) Amarnath and Raja have been doing well, and the spinners Kaushik Gandhi and Suresh Kumar have been striking.”

But the bowling will be up against a Rovers line-up that features men of the calibre of captain M. Vijay (511 runs in 11 innings),

S. Badrinath (434 runs in seven innings), and N. Ajay Kudua (571 runs in nine innings) on a strip that will favour batting.

Rovers will be buoyed by R. Ashwin’s recovery from injury. The off-spinner (54 wickets with seven five-wicket hauls) is a vital component of a bowling attack that appears thin on paper.

“The wickets we have been playing on haven’t suited our bowling either,” said M. Vijay, who is in his first season as captain. “So we have just been sticking to the basics, keeping it tight, and playing mind games, really.”

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