Two venues for the same tournament but so strikingly different! Ferozeshah Kotla in the heart of the city and Palam ground next to the airport. The players will have to be at their best to come to terms with the challenges in the offing at the North Zone one-day league for the Vijay Hazare Trophy.

The Palam ground wore a ragged look; a far cry from the times when it was lush green, the boundary dotted with trees, and the tranquillity disturbed only by the odd aircraft that would take off or land. The barren outfield now, bumpy at many places, can pose problems, especially in a one-day contest where players slide and dive. It would be a rare sight here; a sharp contrast to the Kotla, which boasts of an ideal one-day pitch and one of the best outfields in the country.

Among the six teams, it will be a huge task for Jammu and Kashmir. Coach Bishan Singh Bedi noted, “Our boys have had a long layoff (52 days). Some are literally coming out of cold storage (the Kashmir lads). Just played three practice matches. We are short of practice, not confidence. In any case, we have nothing to lose, everything to gain.”

The tournament will see some new rules implemented to make the contests more intense. A new ball (Kookaburra brand) at each end and two bouncers per over should please the bowlers. No runner and no comfort breaks will mean hard work for the batsmen. A crucial change will force the teams to opt for the power plays from 16th to 40th over. If not, the power play will begin automatically from the 36th over. “It is good for the game,” observed Himachal Pradesh coach Rajdeep Kalsi.

Harbhajan back in action

Harbhajan Singh makes an appearance at the Palam ground where he first figured in an under-15 match when former Test spinner Maninder Singh stood as an umpire. Later, he played a Ranji Trophy match and had a few training sessions with the Indian team. “It feels nice to be playing again (after recovering from a shin injury). I am just keen on bowling and taking wickets. To be part of the State team brings back some fond memories,” said Harbhajan, a key member of the Punjab team. Two of his former colleagues have assumed different roles now. Vikram Rathour is the team coach and Harvinder Singh a state selector.

Rathour expected the youngsters to grab the chances. “I have lot of time for Gurkeerat (Mann). He is a batsman for the future. Siddharth (Kaul) has bowled well. Harbhajan is a huge advantage. We have a compact team.”

Services skipper Yashpal Singh saw the tournament as another opportunity for his team to stake its claims. “We have some talented players. A good show here would boost their confidence. We should make the most of the home advantage.”

For Delhi coach Sanjeev Sharma, playing at home meant “pressure and advantage” both. “It is always dicey when you play at home even though our track record is fine.  The conditions suit us. We have stroke players and the weather is dry. Movement (of ball) will not be pronounced. We are happy with it. It could be tough for the bowlers. “Delhi will have the services of Ashish Nehra and Pawan Suyal, back after 13 months. “Pawan can be a key factor. He is fit and looking good,” said Sanjeev.

Haryana will miss skipper Amit Mishra on account of a shin injury. Seamer Joginder Sharma remains unavailable too. But coach Ashwani Kumar was not perturbed. “This team will play to its potential. We have done well in the first-class season. I expect the players to stretch their good work to this format too.”

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