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Time to play to our potential: Vinay Kumar

Karnataka captain hopes to turn things around in Ranji finals

Karnataka are set to take on Maharashtra in the Ranji Trophy 2013-14 final in Hyderabad. The Vinay Kumar-led side had an impressive run leading up to the final as they won five league matches, before beating Uttar Pradesh in the quarter-final and entering the final on the basis of a first-innings lead in the semi-final against Punjab.

They are, however, without two players who have played an important role in the team earlier in the season. Pacer HS Sharath, who is their second highest wicket-taker with 32 wickets from seven matches, is unfit, while all-rounder Stuart Binny is away on national duty. The leading run-getter for the team, Lokesh Rahul (873 runs from nine matches) and Abhimanyu Mithun (36 wickets from nine matches), Manish Pandey, Karun Nair and the captain himself will play crucial roles in the Ranji final.

Speaking about the team’s composition on the eve of the final, Vinay Kumar said, “We are thinking of making a couple of changes. The wicket looks like a good batting track and it might assist the spinners. We haven't decided on the (playing) XI. We will make the decision tomorrow morning after seeing the wicket.”

While talking about the opposition, the Karnataka captain said, “They are a good side. We are not thinking too much about the other team. We are concentrating on our strengths and we have never really thought about what are the strengths of the opponents.”

Reflecting on the importance of playing the final of the coveted tournament, he added, “It’s a great opportunity for both teams. Reaching the final is a great achievement. First innings will be very crucial and hopefully we will have a good game.”

The team could have a slight advantage on account of the experienced campaigners in the side. Discussing his team composition, Vinay said, “Eight players in the 15 (-member squad have) played in the final the last time Karnataka reached it. (Karnataka last played in the Ranji Trophy final in 2009-10 and lost to Mumbai). Everyone is very eager to turn it around. Our main aim has been to win the Ranji Trophy this time. All the boys have been doing well right from the first game and now this is the time for us to play to our potential. And if we do this, then we can win it.”

“Maharashtra is a new side. We know what is the pressure of a final and that will be a plus point for us,” he added while talking about the pressure of playing a final.

Their team’s performance leading up to the final, to finish at the top of Group A, has been commendable. Looking back on their journey so far, he said, “Actually, it is a great achievement of the team coming back in games where we conceded the lead and we came back. We were in tough situations. We hadn't thought that we would win so many games outright. Each of the players has played to their strength right from the start. And if we do the small things right, the big things will take care of themselves. We just think of the session and what we need to do in the session.”

Speaking about the wicket, he opined, “This wicket is different. Toss will be a factor. It is a dry wicket and in comparison to medium pace, spinners will have the upper hand.”

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Maharashtra is a confident unit: Surendra Bhave

Coach backs his wards going into Ranji finals

Finishing at the top of the Group C in the league phase, Maharashtra have had a dream run in the 2013-14 Ranji Trophy. Under the watchful eye of former Maharashtra captain Surendra Bhave, the team has punched above its weight to beat some of the better teams. Amongst their achievements under Rohit Motwani, is their convincing win over defending champions Mumbai in the quarter-final at the Wankhede stadium and a thumping 10-wicket win in three days over Bengal at the Holkar Stadium in the semi-final.

Speaking about the approach to the final, coach Bhave said, “The usual trick used there is that you keep saying that it’s just another game, but everyone knows it’s not. So giving it due importance, but then again we have concentrated throughout the season about playing the session correctly. Winning the session is important. So once again it is a session to session and a day to day process for the side. Winning all those games will definitely have a bearing on how we play this particular match.”

The top two run-getters of the season belong to Maharashtra. With 1074 runs, Kedar Jadhav leads the charts and is followed by Harshad Khadiwale, who has accumulated 980 runs so far. While the side's batting has been strong, Bhave also spoke highly of the bowling. “It can be a big factor. But at this point in time, I am very confident about our bowling. We have done well since the Jammu & Kashmir game and bowled in the right areas. Our catching has also come up and improved, and that was not the case at the beginning of the season.”

Meanwhile, had Vijay Zol been unavailable, the team had replacements ready. “We had options. Rahul Tripathi has scored a double-hundred in the Colonel CK Nayudu Trophy. Vijay getting permission to play in the game is a very positive sign. Nikhil Naik also got a double in the semis, and we had replacements,” Bhave explained.

Speaking about the team’s composition, he said, “Most likely to go in with the same team. We are still contemplating whether we can make a change. Shrikant Mundhe is fit and available for selection, so he will be a strong contender to come back into the team.”

Discussing Chirag Khurana's role as a spinner, the coach said, “Chirag Khurana balances the team, that's the main thing. We get a pure off-spinner if Chirag is up the order. The 48 that he got for us against Bengal was crucial after they were bowled out for 114. He made a quick 48 and that really set us up for a good total.”

Speaking about the role of reverse swing, he said, "The wicket is slightly on the rougher side. It might play a big role in this game. Reverse swing, conventional swing, all have a role to play in the game, you never really know."

Speaking about the wicket, Bhave said, “The pitch is sporting, the ball will turn a little bit and we will be looking to play accordingly.”

“There is a little bit of grass on the pitch. It’s live grass and it’s not completely bare,” he added.

“The first two days of any knockout match are important and it will be the same thing here. Looks like a win toss and bat first but we will have to wait till tomorrow. You can decide what you like till today but it all depends on how the pitch looks tomorrow and what our gut feeling is. What are the areas we need to cover,” he said.

“It’s good to feel that pressure. It is better to be in the finals rather than just imagining about being in the finals. We are there now. We are fine with the pressure. One big thing about professional sport is that you need to be able to handle pressure at the big moments,” he said while discussing the pressure of playing the finals. “The players are definitely treating it as an opportunity rather than as a challenge. That helps you to manage pressure and I hope it does because I really think this team is talented enough to lift the cup.”

Bhave, who led Maharashtra when they last reached the final in 1992-93, has contributed largely to the team’s fortune. Speaking about what makes this team tick and the attitude in the dressing room, he said, “I have worked with a first-class team after a long time. Once I got connected to this team, I realised that they are not scared of anyone. They are an extremely confident unit. They are not scared of the big names. They deal with the ball, not with the bowler. They have been pretty good at focusing on the job and I don't think there has been any pressure in the dressing room right now.”

Meanwhile, captain Motwani added, “This team was performing well individually till last year. There was guidance that was needed for the team to come together. The only thing missing was a coach who could understand the scenario of our team, and once that happened, the team picked up.”
When asked if expectations of winning the title are putting added pressure on him and the team, the Maharashtra captain replied, “That is there, the Ranji trophy title is at the back of the mind. We have to do all the processes right. We need to cut things down in short goals. Winning the Ranji Trophy is the ultimate aim and it is at the back of our minds.”