Yuvraj Singh has barely sauntered halfway through to the centre square at Kotla, when he is greeted by loud cries of ‘Yuvi, Yuvi’. The Punjab skipper is pleasantly surprised as he turns around. It’s Baroda’s batting lynchpin and his old friend Yusuf Pathan. They exchange pleasantries and shake hands. The two go back a long way and now find themselves at the same stage of their careers. A India returns seems like a distant dream but they haven’t yet given up.
Both know that they need to bat out of their skins to return to the Indian middle order. Youngers players have cemented their place in the national team and there are several others on the domestic circuit who are in the queue to get their first big break. One of them, Deepak Hooda, will be leading Baroda as regular skipper Irfan Pathan, another one from the Yusuf-Yuvraj generation, has been ruled out of the third round Ranji Trophy game because of a niggle.
A hard-hitting top-order batsman, Hooda has quietly risen through the ranks in the three years since making his debut for Baroda. It was, however, in the IPL two years back when he really rose into prominence. Playing for the Rajasthan Royals, Hooda scored at a blistering strike-rate of over 150.
In this Ranji season, he has got off to the most auspicious start, scoring two back-to-back centuries in Baroda’s opening two games. Hooda, on his part, says he has been far more judicious in his shot selection.
“I look to play each ball on its merit. This has reaped rewards for me this season.” So, at just 21, Hooda now finds himself hogging the limelight early in the Ranji season.
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He, however, chooses to ignore the hype surrounding his temporary elevation to the top job, and instead plays down the pressures that go into leading a top flight Ranji squad. “It’s only one game. Irfan bhai will be back for the next game in Raipur. We have the same side. All-rounder Vishnu Solanki will replace him,” he says.
Hooda has captained Baroda’s youth teams before, but this is probably the first time that he will be leading a near full-strength team at the Ranji level.
Despite having accrued solitary points from the first two games this season, Baroda will take solace from the manner in which their top-order batsmen have performed so far. And standing on top of the charts is Kedar Devdhar. The diminutive opener has given his side brisk starts at the outset. A well compiled 65 in the Ranji opener was followed by an exquisite ton in the second innings of the drawn game against Mumbai at Palam.
Kedar, along with fellow opener Aditya Waghmode and keeper Pinal Shah, have notched up consistent scores in their four innings. It’s the bowling that has been a worry for coach Jacob Martin’s side. But their young captain is not perturbed.
“So far, we have played on tracks that have suited the batsmen. Our bowlers are working hard, but sadly they have not got tracks that have been conducive for them,” Hooda adds.
Over the years, Baroda has given India’s senior side a ready pool of talented young players. Going forward, one suspects a good Ranji season is what Hooda will need to make the transition to the senior side.
On his captaincy debut, however, Hooda will have his task cut out. That’s because Punjab captain Yuvraj Singh has announced his return to form with a sublime ton against Madhya Pradesh in their previous Ranji game at Lahli.
On Thursday at the Kotla, battlelines will be drawn. A fading superstar will be battling for supremacy against a young and prodigious batting talent, who will be leading a fairly settled side in a crucial Ranji encounter.
Ranji Trophy Round-Up
Rana Dutta became the first bowler from Tripura to take a hat-trick in Ranji history in the match against Himachal Pradesh. He removed Rishi Dhawan, Sumeet Verma and Mayank Dagar.
Ajay Mandal became the first bowler from Chhattisgarh to take a five-for though Haryana’s Joginder Sharma took a five-wicket haul to hand Chhattisgarh its first loss of the season.
Sagun Kamat ensured Goa won’t be left behind in the history stakes. Kamat became the first Goan batsman to smash a Ranji triple (304). Kamat’s triple ton was the second instance this season of a captain going past 300 – Swapnil Gugale, of Maharashtra, had done it against Delhi .
More honours for captains were witnessed as Jaydev Shah hit a double hundred against Maharashtra. He became the first Saurashtra captain to hit a Ranji double ton.
Karun Nair continued the golden run for captains as he stepped in for the injured Vinay Kumar and oversaw a stunning innings-defeat of Delhi. S Aravind took 4 for 14 to help bowl out Delhi for 90 in the first innings.
The captain’s corner was also strengthened by Tamil Nadu’s Abhinav Mukund’s hundred, his third of this season, (including Duleep Trophy).
Fixtures (all matches begin at 9.30 am)
Baroda v Punjab at Delhi
Bengal v Railways at Dharamshala
Gujarat v Uttar Pradesh at Delhi
Madhya Pradesh vTamil Nadu at Cuttack
Assam v Karnataka at Mumbai
Jharkhand v Vidarbha at Wayanad
Rajasthan v Maharashtra at Hyderabad
Delhi v Odisha at Mohali
Andhra v Haryana at Mumbai
Chhattisgarh v Kerala at Jamshedpur
Goa v Tripura at Bhubaneswar
Himachal Pradesh v Hyderabad at Guwahati
Services v Jammu & Kashmir at Jaipur