Ranji Trophy: TN begin favourites
Chennai, Jan 1 (IANS) With their frontline batsmen and bowlers in good form this season, Tamil Nadu, winners in 1986-87 and twice runners-up thereafter, would be looking to roll over Maharashtra in the Ranji Trophy quarterfinal beginning here Monday.
With Cyclone Thane sparing the city and the sun out in all its winter splendour, a full game is on the cards despite a wet spell being forecast later in the week that if proved right, would leave the two teams at the mercy of chance.
Maharashtra, like their opponents, topped their group in the Plate division with three wins in five outings, including an extraordinary innings defeat of Hyderabad who were dismissed for 124 and 54 with left-arm spinner Akshya Darekar claiming 13 wickets.
Darekar, in fact, has been Maharashtra's most successful bowler this season with a haul of 32 wickets in six matches and he will again be the key player given the expected slowness of the Chepauk pitch which is likely to favour more spin than pace.
Maharashtra have happy memories of Chepauk where they won the 2011 Buchi Babu tournament defeating Kerala by two wickets in the final. Darekar didn't play that game, but promising teenager Ankit Bawne did.
In fact, the 19-year old Bawne has been in top gear this season with two centuries, though he was unlucky to miss the quadrangular series in Vizag where he was to lead the Indian Under-19 team.
Thus, Maharashtra, runners-up to Punjab in 1992-93, would be looking up to Darekar and Bawne to continue their good work against a team that appears primed for the knock-out stage.
Tamil Nadu's batting has been their mainstay this season with opener Abhinav Mukund (709) in top form with two centuries, as also Dinesh Karthik (440) and Vasudevadas (237).
However, Tamil Nadu's bowling attack wears a balanced look with plenty of variety. Their top wicket-takers have been seamers Vijaykumar Yo Mahesh (19), Lakshmipathy Balaji (15) and Jagannathan Kaushik (15) while left-arm spinner Raju Aushik Srinivas complemented their efforts with 15 wickets.
Thus, Tamil Nadu appear better equipped in terms of depth and all-round performers besides current form of their leading players and should come out on top.