As the Maharashtra players trooped in to the Rajiv Gandhi international stadium at Uppal, two days before their Ranji Trophy final encounter against Karnataka, a brief look at the wicket from outside the dressing room, immediately set off some chatter among the side’s pace bowlers. The reason for the excitement seemed due to a flash of green off the wicket.
However, as the team made its way past the square for a touch-rugby session, some furtive looks at the wicket on a hot Monday morning, seemed to have brought about a change of mood. After the rugby game, the pacers lined up outside the square, staring at the strip. The absence of banter was noticeable.
If worry lines emerged on the foreheads of the Maharashtra medium-pacers it was because most of the grass on the Uppal wicket was uniformly brown. The talk at the end of the practice session seemed to linger on one particular topic, how much would this wicket turn?
Expectedly, there was a bee-line at the spinners’ nets with most Maharashtra batsmen looking to get as much time as possible to play the turning ball after having come off two games on seamer-friendly tracks.
While much has been said about the sporting nature of the tracks in this edition of the Ranji Trophy, Hyderabad to some extent has been the exception. All four group games played at the stadium in Uppal ended in draws.
In two of these games, the first-innings was not completed with more than 1,000 runs scored in the match. Maharashtra’s second game this season, played at this venue, saw 1,144 runs scored and just 16 wickets falling in four days of cricket.
Out of the total of 90 wickets to have fallen over the course of the four matches, 39 have been taken by spinners.
Maharashtra coach, Surendra Bhave, who had an extended look at the wicket said that this was a wicket where spin might play a ‘huge’ role. “While there is a little bit of grass, it is concentrated in a short of length area. The main business areas for the spinners looks quite promising and I am sure this wicket will give out a result,” he said.
Though Karnataka have relied on their pacers to get them wickets this season, leg-spinner Shreyas Gopal with 18 wickets in four matches at 16.67 might just be the key for them.
Karnataka have Amit Verma as another leg-spinning option along with left-arm spinners KP Appanna and Abrar Kazi. Appanna, Karnataka’s lead spinner till last season, has 11 wickets in five matches at a rather expensive 42.72 while Kazi has five at 59.20 in the same number of matches.
Maharashtra’s Akshay Darekar, currently the side’s leading wicket-taker with 32 to his name, had a long net-session on Monday. Darekar, who took a match haul of 10 for 137 against Assam this season on a turning track, busied himself in a drill, which had him bowl at three cones placed at varying lengths just outside the off-stump of a right-handed batsman.
Darekar will also take heart from the fact that he snared 13 wickets at the same venue against Hyderabad in November 2011, finishing with eight for 20 on a viciously turning pitch.
However, this venue has also aided pacers, albeit only briefly. In the last match played at this venue between Hyderabad and Kerala, medium-pacers snapped up 23 of the 32 wickets which fell in the match. In Hyderabad’s first match of the season, versus Andhra, the pacemen accounted for 15 of the 26 wickets
The groundsmen at Uppal said that the early morning moisture, coupled with the cool conditions will offer some help to the fast bowlers. Also, with the wicket turning, bowlers who can cut and reverse the ball would be a handful.