Shreyas Iyer In Focus As Mumbai Take On Tamil Nadu In Ranji Trophy Semifinal

Shreyas Iyer would be key in Mumbai's scheme of things specially against Tamil Nadu's quality spin bowling, which has been one of their key weapons this season.

Out-of-favour India batter Shreyas Iyer will be motivated to prove a point and serve a timely reminder of his skillset as he gets back to domestic action when the record 41-time champions Mumbai take on Tamil Nadu in the Ranji Trophy semifinal in Mumbai on Saturday. Dropped from the Indian Test side and discarded from BCCI’s list of contracted players after he did not make himself available for the Ranji Trophy quarterfinal due to groin and back trouble, Iyer has recovered completely to join Mumbai for the key clash.

Iyer would be key in Mumbai’s scheme of things specially against Tamil Nadu’s quality spin bowling, which has been one of their key weapons this season.

Skipper R Sai Kishore (47 wickets) and fellow left-arm spinner S Ajith Ram (41) are perched atop the list of highest wicket-takers, against whom Iyer and Co. will have a great opportunity to make a strong statement.

The semifinal promises to be an enthralling battle between Tamil Nadu’s persistent and disciplined bowlers and their batters who have piled up big runs this season versus Mumbai’s all-round strength.

Mumbai have made it to the semifinals riding on timely performances from different players barring skipper Ajinkya Rahane, who has just one fifty to show from six matches.

None of the Mumbai bowlers has even made it to the top 10 in the list of wicket-takers — Mohit Avasthi (32) is at 13th — yet they find themselves in the final four with their bowlers sharing the workload quite well.

Both Mumbai and Tamil Nadu are coming off impressive wins at the quarterfinal stage.

Young Musheer Khan’s unbeaten 203 allowed Mumbai a slender lead which swelled to an insurmountable 605 courtesy a historic show from tailenders Tanush Kotian and Tushar Deshpande against Baroda. While Tamil Nadu stopped defending champions Saurashtra.

A standout feature in Tamil Nadu’s impressive run this year has been the fact that they have bowled out each of their opponents twice in all Ranji matches this season irrespective of the outcome.

Both Mumbai and Tamil Nadu have lost only one match each. While Tamil Nadu only rose to find their best form after an away defeat to Gujarat in their season-opener, Mumbai’s narrow loss to Uttar Pradesh only proved to be a minor blip.

It remains to be seen if N Jagadeesan (821 runs) rediscovers his form which helped him register consecutive scores of 245 not out and 321 earlier in the tournament. The right-hander has not crossed fifty in his last seven innings.

However, Baba Indrajith’s (686 runs) enviable consistency has done wonders for Tamil Nadu, with the 29-year-old being on a run-making spree with scores of 80, 187, 98 and 48 in last three matches.

Tamil Nadu have also been strengthened by the inclusion of all-rounder Washington Sundar, who has been released from the Indian Test side.

On what is expected to be a batting-friendly surface, Mumbai’s deep batting line-up with Prithvi Shaw and Bhupen Lalwani at the top and all-rounder Shardul Thakur and even Shams Mulani in the lower-order, the hosts will fancy putting up a big score.

For Tamil Nadu, it would be imperative to keep working with their strengths — if Jagadeesan, Indrajith and Pradosh Ranjan Paul form the fulcrum of their batting, seamer Sandeep Warrier has provided adequate support to the spin duo of Sai Kishore and Ajith.

Mumbai: Ajinkya Rahane (c), Shreyas Iyer, Prithvi Shaw, Bhupen Lalwani, Amogh Bhatkal, Musheer Khan, Prasad Pawar (wk), Hardik Tamore (wk), Shardul Thakur, Shams Mulani, Tanush Kotian, Aditya Dhumal, Tushar Deshpande, Mohit Avasthi, Royston Dias, Dhawal Kulkarni.

Tamil Nadu: R Sai Kishore (c), Pradosh Ranjan Paul (vc), Baba Indrajith, Narayan Jagadeesan (wk), Suresh Lokeshwar (wk), Sai Sudharsan, Vijay Shankar, Vimal Khumar, Balasubramaniam Sachin, Washington Sundar, Sandeep Warrier, Trilok Nag, T Natarajan, Mohammed Mohammed, S Ajith Ram.

Gritty Madhya Pradesh look to outwit formidable Vidarbha

A resolute Madhya Pradesh is faced with the daunting task of taming Vidarbha in their home ground, which the hosts have turned into an impregnable citadel this season, when the familiar foes clash in the Ranji Trophy semifinal.

Two-time champions Vidarbha have played four matches at the VCA Stadium this season, and they have won three of them with the solitary defeat coming against Saurashtra.

Those victories have come with convincing margins too – seven wickets against Services, 115 runs against Haryana and 127 runs against Karnataka in the quarterfinals.

The biggest strength of Vidarbha throughout this season has been the collective contribution of their batsmen.

They have found different heroes in veteran Karun Nair (515 runs), import from Delhi Dhruv Shorey (496), top-order batter Atharva Taide (488) and skipper Akshay Wadkar (452). All of them have bailed them out of the woods on different occasions.

The Nagpur pitch has often acted as an ally of the batters but Vidarbha have also been fortunate to have the services of two lion-hearted bowlers – pacer Aditya Thakare and left-arm spinner Aditya Sarwate.

They have grabbed 68 wickets together so far this season, seldom allowing their opponents to dictate the course of the match.

Sarwate’s four-wicket burst against Karnataka is a pointer.

Karnataka had reached 103 for 1 while chasing 371 at close on Day 4, but Sarwate bowled an excellent spell on the fifth day to bundle out the visitors for 243.

But then giving an upper-hand to Vidarbha based on that bull run at home could be a tad not fair as well.

Madhya Pradesh, the 2022 champions, have walked through rings of fire to enter the last four stage.

They managed just three outright wins in eight league matches while fiercely battling in other games to gain first innings lead.

Even in their quarterfinal match against Andhra, MP were on the brink of elimination before clawing back to eke out a four-run win.

The biggest positive for them this season has been the renewed hunger for runs shown by Venkatesh Iyer. Having lost his way in the India scheme of things, Iyer has amassed 528 runs at an average of 52 with a hundred and four fifties.

The left-hander has been well-supported by Himanshu Mantri (513) and Yash Dubey (510). They have shouldered the responsibility of MP’s batting in the absence of Rajat Patidar, who is away on national duty.

MP’s bowling will revolve around the versatile Kumar Kartikeya, who can bowl both orthodox left-arm spin as well as the left-arm wrist spin version.

The Mumbai Indians all-rounder has contributed 38 wickets to his team’s bowling chart this year.

Veteran off-spinner Saransh Jain (27 wickets) and left-arm pacer Kulwant Khejroliya (26 wickets) have backed Kartikeya ably.

But beyond these, the biggest strength of MP is the presence of astute tactician Chandrakant Pandit, their head coach.

The stern taskmaster knows how to get the best from his wards under pressure.

In fact, Vidarbha players will vouch for that because it was Pandit who orchestrated their title run in two successive seasons – 2017-18 and 2018-19.

Vidarbha:Atharva Taide, Dhruv Shorey, Yash Rathod, Karun Nair, Akshay Wadkar (wk/captain), Mohit Kale, Aditya Sarwate, Harsh Dubey, Yash Thakur, Umesh Yadav, Aditya Thakare, Faiz Fazal, Akshay Wakhare, Sanjay Raghunath, Rajneesh Gurbani, Lalit M Yadav, Siddhesh Wath, Jitesh Sharma, Darshan Nalkande, Shubham Dubey.

Madhya Pradesh: Yash Dubey, Himanshu Mantri (wk), Harsh Gawli, Shubham S Sharma (captain), Venkatesh Iyer, Sumit Kushwah, Saransh Jain, Anubhav Agarwal, Kumar Kartikeya, Avesh Khan, Kulwant Khejroliya, Amarjeet Singh, Aditya Shrivastava, Mihir Hirwani, Rishabh Chouhan, Aryan Pandey.

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