A confident Tamil Nadu with a host of experienced limited overs specialists will start as favourites against a youthful Bengal side led by their inspirational skipper Manoj Tiwary in the final of Vijay Hazare Trophy.
Both Bengal and Tamil Nadu have proved their mettle in the limited overs format having played back-to-back finals in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 editions.
On both occasions, it was Tamil Nadu, who comfortably went past the finishing line with Abhinav Mukund and Murali Vijay scoring centuries.
It will be an occasion when Tiwary and his young boys can extract revenge against Vijay Shankar’s team who are known to fire on big occasions.
On paper, Tamil Nadu may be slightly better side than Bengal on a man to man basis. Dinesh Karthik with 495 runs is a match-winner on his day. A breezy 65-70 runs from Karthik can turn the match on its head.
“Bengal are a fantastic side and I would not like to believe that Tamil Nadu are favourites tomorrow. The best part is that we have had players who have performed throughout the tournament,” seasoned Karthik said.
“It would have been great had Abhi (Abhinav Mukund), (Murali) Vijay and (Ravichandran) Ashwin been there as they were a part of earlier triumphs. But they are on national duty so we knew won’t get them. But one player we genuinely miss is T Natarajan for the variations that he can bring,” Karthik said.
Seasoned Karthik will have an answer in Bengal’s young opener Abhimanyu Easwaran, who is second in the list with 471 runs to his credit. The national selection committee thinks highly of Easwaran and no wonder he is a part of India U-23 Emerging squad.
Not to forget skipper Vijay Shankar, who is being groomed as an all-rounder with bigger responsibilities in mind.
But he will face resistance from Tiwary, a man with a penchant for firing on big occasions in domestic circuit.
“Tamil Nadu has been a good limited overs side. I remember that we dropped Mukund’s catch during 2009 finals while Vijay’s chance was dropped during 2010 finals. They are a fantastic 50-overs side. Also the Feroz Shah Kotla wicket is pretty similar to the ones in Chennai. So they are familiar with conditions. We have happy memories of this ground as we won the trophy in 2012 when Dada (Sourav Ganguly) was around,” Tiwary said.
Asked about the team combination, the skipper said: “I will take a call tomorrow after looking at the conditions.”
However, it is expected that Bengal will stick to the winning combination.
Both teams have had contrasting passage to the final. While Tamil Nadu have chased modest 200 plus totals comfortably against Gujarat in the quarter-final and Baroda in the semi-final, Bengal won two high-scoring matches in the knock-out stages.
Against Maharashtra, Bengal successfully chased 318 –their highest in Hazare Trophy history and then plundered 329 against Mahendra Singh Dhoni-led Jharkhand.
Both teams have had some utility cricketers performing at the right time.
Wicketkeeper-batsman Shreevats Goswami with scores of 74 and 101 in the quarter-final and semi-final will be bubbling with confidence.
Sudeep Chatterjee anchored the run-chase in quarters and is one of the coolest heads in the Bengal set-up.
Similarly, the Baba brothers — Aparajith and Indrajith will love to come out all guns blazing against Bengal. There is off-spinner MS Washington Sundar about whom Karthik spoke very highly and young opener Kaushik Gandhi.
From Bengal, there will be young and old combo of Agniv Pan and Anushtup Majumdar fighting it out with them.
In bowling department, Bengal have two wily campaigners in former India players Pragyan Ojha and Ashok Dinda compared to Anthony Aswin Crist and Rahil Shah.