Lahli: As Mumbai launch their defence of the Ranji Trophy against Haryana here on Sunday, all the attention has been cornered by their retiring star Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar.
The batting colossus has announced that this four-day Group A match would be his last in the Ranji Trophy and third-last of his first- class career as he would retire after the two Tests against the West Indies next month.
Both teams have new captains — a fit-looking Zaheer Khan is leading 40-time champions Mumbai and comeback man Ajay Jadeja as captain-cum-coach would try to lift Haryana’s morale after an abysmal last season — but the spotlight is firmly on Tendulkar.
Interestingly, Tendulkar’s last Ranji game is his first at Chaudhary Bansi Lal Stadium, the 112th first-class venue at which he would pad up on Sunday, even as demand for complimentary tickets continues for a match that has assumed gigantic proportions.
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Although the stadium, nestled amidst green fields, can accommodate 8,000 spectators, the Haryana Cricket Association (HCA) is keeping about 2,800 seats empty due to security reasons.
The rest, 5,200 complimentary tickets, have been distributed.
However, many die-hard Tendulkar fans are still not giving up on getting the prized tickets.
On the field, the two teams had a long and simultaneous practice session on a slightly foggy Saturday morning with Tendulkar looking as sincere as ever. He first had a quick massage before going straight into the fielding session.
Then he padded up and batted for about 45 minutes. After removing his helmet — and with pads still on — Tendulkar stood at the end from where Zaheer and others were bowling and shared his inputs with his teammates. He bowled too.
In between, the ever-smiling Jadeja had a look at the bats of Tendulkar and senior pro Wasim Jaffer. Jadeja, who gets along well with Tendulkar, said he had left a bat for his former India teammate to sign for posterity.
The Ranji history between the teams goes a long way, and Jadeja mentioned the historic 1991 final, in which Kapil Dev’s Haryana edged past Dilip Vengarkar’s Mumbai by a mere two runs to win their maiden title, so far their only national title.
Interestingly, both teams have a good bowling attack, particularly the pacers, who would be licking their lips in anticipation as the ball moves appreciably in helpful conditions here. The vast open, green area around the stadium would help them seam and swing the ball at least in the morning session, which starts at 9.30 am when the atmosphere is heavy.
Mumbai had everything going for them last season under captain Ajit Agarkar, who quit first-class cricket recently. Mumbai beat surprise finalists Saurashtra by an innings inside three days in the title clash. Visiting Mumbai will start with an advantage here as they have a strong batting line-up too, starting from openers Jaffer with Tendulkar holding the middle order, while Zaheer, hoping to make a comeback to the national team, leads the bowling attack.
The squad for the two-Test series against the West Indies would be picked on Tuesday, the third and penultimate day of this game.
Haryana’s batting completely flopped last year and the story began from the first match against Vidarbha when they were bowled out for a mere 55.
They never recovered from that jolt and lost three matches and won just one out of eight matches to finish eighth in Group B. Probably that performance forced the HCA to recall Jadeja at age 42 to infuse some experience in the team. Jadeja is known for his street-smart cricket and it remains to be seen if his presence will change Haryana’s fortunes.
Reproduced from Mail Today. Copyright 2013. MTNPL. All rights reserved.