By Sidhanta Patnaik
Here is a firsthand look of the plate league teams.
Services: Their performance last season was a revelation as they nearly qualified for the Super League stages. New faces like Soumya Ranjan Swain and Pratik Desai gave a fresh look and feel to the team which for long now has been considered as a mere number filler in Ranji Trophy. With more exposure behind them and with the experience of the veteran Yashpal Singh this is for the first time that they have a real chance of leaping into the elite group.
Assam: After a few years of overdependence on professionals, they have retained just Dheeraj Yadav for this season. Though it has weakened the team’s overall balance, it’s nevertheless an appreciable step taken by the association. It provides the local youngsters to raise their hand up and make their name count in the big stage. They have established their credibility in the east zone and with Abu Nechim’s Mumbai Indian experience they have a strong chance to qualify for the super league stages.
Hyderabad: For the amount of cricketing richness Hyderabad possess, they are a misfit in the plate division but they have been stuck here for long courtesy some poor planning and lack of application. With a new coach in Sunil Joshi they will be hoping in the revival of fortune. Ravi Teja and Arjun Yadav need to steer the team and if Pragyan Ojha and VVS Laxman can play in a few matches then the tide may turn back.
Jharkhand: They are the defending champions of the Vijay Hazare Trophy, the domestic one day tournament which is an indication of the team’s potential and the brand of cricket they specialise in. A lot of their journey in the next three months will depend on the leadership of Saurabh Tiwary and Ishank Jaggi.
Kerala: Thanks to the Indian Premier League (IPL), Padmanabhan Prashanth and Raiphi Gomez have got some much important exposure to big time cricket and in the recently- concluded Syed Musthaq Ali T20 zonal tournament the team put up a decent performance which should hold them in good stead as they start their Ranji campaign this season. All eyes will be on Sreesanth and how he gels in the team composition to help them qualify to the next level.
Andhra Pradesh: Their performance has been sporadic every season. In B. Sumanth, Hemanl Watekar, Gnaneswara Rao and Syed Sahabuddin they have some individually talented players, but whether they can come together as a team or not is what remains to be seen.
Himachal Pradesh: HP, which has one of the most picturesque cricket grounds of the world, will be hoping for Paul Valthaty to fire for them. The strongly-built Vikramjeet Malik will lead the bowling attack in conditions that should ideally suit his style of bowling. In Ajay Ratra and Paras Dogra they have some quality experience to put up the runs on the board.
Tripura: They are the dark secret of Indian cricket that play a stipulated number of matches in domestic cricket before going back to hibernation. Timir Chandra, the only prominent local face along with the Mumbai’s professional Vinayak Samant will have to bat their skin out to gain a few first innings leads and save matches this season.
Goa: They have signed Abhishek Raut as a professional for the season to give some support to Swapnil Asnodkar who has failed to live up to the initial hype that surrounded him after the first edition of IPL with Rajasthan Royals. The absence of Shadab Jakati from the initial squad is intriguing since their bowling lacks the ability to skittle out oppositions.
Vidharba: The emergence of Umesh Yadav from their ranks has been the biggest contribution in recent times. Their performance last year was entertaining and this year they have strengthened their line up by signing Sairaj Bahutule, Shiv Sunder Das and Hemang Badani as professionals and to add to it Shrikant Wagh, too, has been a revelation. They might turn out to be the surprise package of the season.
(Sidhanta Patnaik is a sports marketing professional, public speaker and part-time writer)