Ranji Trophy Final: Can Maharashtra end 72-year title drought?
It looks like an even-stevens contest as both Karanataka and Maharashtra have plenty of depth in their batting line-up and the performance of the bowlers might just decide the eventual winners.
Hyderabad: High on confidence following their fairytale run this season, underdogs Maharashtra would be eyeing to break their 72-year title jinx when they take on favourites Karanataka in the summit clash of the Ranji Trophy, in Hyderabad on Wednesday.
Maharashtra won the Ranji Trophy twice but both the titles came in the pre-Independence era in 1939-40 and 1940-41.
Maharashtra's Anupam Sanklecha celebrates the wicket of Kaustubh Pawar during their quarter-final against Mumbai at the Wankhede recently. The Mumbai batsman scored 244 runs in seven Ranji matches this season at an average of 17.42. Pic/Suresh KK
It will be a real test for the Kedar Jadhavs and the Vijay Zols as they take on seasoned campaigners like R Vinay Kumar and Abhimanyu Mithun while bowlers like Samad Fallah and Anupam Sanklecha will face hard-hitting opener Robin Uthappa, the solid Lokesh Rahul and dependable Karun Nair.
Maharashtra's performance in this year's Ranji Trophy has been exemplary as they entered the final of the country's elite domestic cricket tournament after a hiatus of 21 years. They last played in the final of Ranji Trophy in 1992-93 season where they lost to eventual winners Punjab.
Maharashtra's has been the surprise package this year, While their batsmen have been consistent, the pacers have provided them breakthroughs all throughout the season.
Maharashtra's top-five batsmen have all scored more than 500 runs with Kedar Jadhav leading the tally with 1074 runs which includes five centuries. Opener Harshad Khadiwale has scored 980 runs with three centuries to his credit, while India Under-19 captain Vijay Zol too have been among runs for Maharashtra.
In fact Zol has been permitted by the BCCI to play the final skipping the U-19 camp in Bangalore for the World Cup.
Maharashtra batsmen have so far accounted for 12 hundreds in this year's national championship.
If batting has been Maharashtra's strong point, their bowling department is not to be left far behind. Maharashtra'a pace trio of Srikanth Mundhe, Fallah and Sanklecha have fired in unison.
In fact, Fallah will be the man to watch out for after his 10-wicket haul against Bengal in the semi-final and his ability to swing the ball both ways.
In left-arm spinner Akshay Darekar (32), their highest wicket-taker so far, Maharashtra has a clever slow bowler who will be eager to exploit the help available from the low and slow Uppal pitch to the fullest.
Karnataka, on the other hand, start as favourites on paper and they would be hoping to win their seventh Ranji title, their sixth and last came way back in 1998-99.
Karnataka last came close to winning the title in 2009-10 where they lost by just six runs to Mumbai in a thrilling final.
Just like Maharashtra, Karnataka batsmen too have 13 centuries this season with young trio of Karun Nair, Lokesh Rahul and and Manish Pandey scoring the bulk of the runs.
In fact, Nair is the one to watch out for having smashed three consecutive centuries in Karnataka's last three matches including the quarter-final against Uttar Pradesh and semi-final against Punjab. His maiden ton was against Delhi in the final group league encounter.
Besides Nair and Pandey, who has three centuries against his name, opening duo of Uthappa and Rahul's performances will also play a crucial role in Karnataka's success.
With skipper R Vinay Kumar (22 wickets) and Mithun (36 wkts) in their line-up, Karnataka seems to have an edge over Maharashtra in the bowling department.
Vinay Kumar, who took five wickets in an innings against Punjab in the semifinal, would be hoping for a similar outing if not better in the final, starting tomorrow.
It looks like an even-stevens contest as both the teams have plenty of depth in their batting line-up and the performance of the bowlers might just decide the eventual winners.