Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Now or Never

Suhrid Barua, Pune Mirror, December 23, 2008

There are occasions when a team goes into a match with 'outside' hope of qualifying for the next stage. But when the team doesn't even have that luxury of 'hoping', staying 'motivated' becomes quite a 'challenge'. So much so that the team is literally to press the motivation button, ditto for the Maharashtra Ranji side as they gird their lions for the bigger responsibility of skirting the ignominy of being relegated from the Elite Group when they lock horns in a Super League game against Railways commencing at Ratnagiri on Friday.

Having seen their quarterfinal qualifying hopes go up in smoke after two successive defeats to Uttar Pradesh and Baroda in away games, it's a make-or-break situation for Maharashtra as they look to pull off a win in their own backyard. Even the permutations and combinations aren't too 'complicated' to comprehend as the target is plain and simple: Maharashtra must pull off wins in their last two games against Railways and Karnataka and again 'hope' that the results of some other teams go in their favour. Let's put this in simple terms: Maharashtra have a real 'mountain' to climb even if they have to stay in the Elite Group.
There has been strident criticism of the State team in their inability to play as a team and deliver in the crunch situations. So that does mean 'strategising' has gone for a 'toss' in the first place? "When we played the opener against Tamil Nadu, we had formulated a strategy to achieve success. Winning for losing doesn't mean we alter our strategy. It's just that we had plans in place but we couldn't put it into practice," explains State coach Shaun Williams.

Maharashtra goes into the match with a captain (Nikhil Paradkar), who is going through the horrors with the willow. Ever since he got a superb 92 against Tamil Nadu in the Ranji opener, his batting form has dipped 'alarmingly' so much so that he managed just 28 runs in his last five innings.When your captain is not showing the right signs of leading from the front, it doesn't augur well for the side ahead of any match, let alone a Ranji Trophy game. "We know Nikhil has gone off the boil with the bat. But we are backing him to the hilt and he will come good sooner than later," Williams springs to his defense.But one gets the feeling that there is too much talk of 'building a team for the future'.

Does that puts the larger goal of winning on the backburner? Williams sounds disturbed. "I really don't know what you want me to say. Tell me which team doesn't want to win? We've a young team at our disposal, so I would expect everyone to be patient with the boys. We also have to realise where we stand."

Williams reckons the team hasn't got the credit for the way they have played in the four games so far. We've played against sides which featured a slew of former or present Indian discards."If you look at the Baroda game, let me tell you that we performed outstandingly and I thought we were plain unlucky not to have pushed the result in our favour," he explained.

'Mr Half-Centurion'

Kedar Jadhav gave consistency a new lift, holding the record for scoring most fifties in this season Ranji Trophy Super League so far

Suhrid Barua, Pune Mirror, December 14, 2008

When a batsman is in the middle of a great run, he can at times rewrite or hold records without being actually aware of it. That's the precisely the case with Maharashtra's Ranji run-machine Kedar Jadhav. The 23-year-old strokemaker holds the record for being the batsman with the highest number of half-centuries (he has six fifties to his name) in this season's Ranji Trophy Super League.And one is not overly surprised to learn that the man in question isn't in the know about it. "I didn't knew it until you told me. I do realise that I'm getting quite a number of half-centuries but never thought I'm the top scorer of fifties," the youngster professes his ignorance.Six half-centuries in seven innings speak a lot about his consistency.

It was the proverbial 'law of averages' that caught up with Jadhav in the second innings of the Baroda game when he fell cheaply for the first time (he made 4) in State's Ranji Trophy campaign.So, what has been the secret of his consistency mantra? "Play every ball on merit," quips Jadhav. "I've always tried to give every ball the deserving treatment. If the first ball I face is a half-volley, I am going to clobber it to the fence. To me, it doesn't matter what reputation the bowler has," he says with a new-found self-belief.No doubt, the State Ranji batting unit has failed to come 'together' in the four games so far when the team has required, making our chances of qualifying for the quarterfinals almost next to impossible.

But there has been one man, Kedar Jadhav, who has stood tall throughout. How much happiness does Jadhav derives when he is firing with the willow but his side is not doing well? "Personally, I'm happy with the way I've shaped up this season. But to perform for a team when it is winning is entirely different. In the two remaining games we have, I want to contribute significantly and help my team win," gushes Jadhav talking like the near-perfect team man.

For the top-order batsman, disappointment is laced with happiness and Jadhav knows it why? "I've twice got into the nineties but not being able to convert them into hundreds. The next time, I get close to a hundred, I will make sure I translate that into a big hundred," a confidence-personified Jadhav fired a parting shot.

Enamul End

Bangladeshi tweaker's consistent poor show with the ball raises questions whether it was a wrong move to pick him in the first place

Suhrid Barua, Pune Mirror December 8, 2008

It doesn't need excessive brain racking to fathom that foreign players were welcomed by BCCI in the Indian premier domestic competition - Ranji Trophy with a sole objective of lending more 'quality' to the existing standards.But what do you do when the foreign players pan out to be of sub-standard quality? Take the case of Bangladeshi left-arm spinner Enamul Haque; Hang on; we are not yet insinuating that he is of sub-standard quality but the way he has failed to make the ball 'talk' under Maharashtra Ranji colours in three matches before the shoddy run led to him being dropped for the ongoing Baroda tie, would definitely lead many to believe that it was a selection gaffe by MCA.Well, there hasn't been any shortage of excuses to defend Enamul.

When the State bowlers went for a massive mauling at the hands of Tamil Nadu in the Ranji opener, the MCA high and mighty were toeing the 'Give him time to settle down' line.And again when he floundered against Andhra, the State Ranji coach Shaun Williams said that people were having unrealistic expectations from Enamul. "He's still young, you don't expect him to get heap of wickets everytime he comes on to bowl, Williams said after the second tie against Andhra.Well, should we stop expecting the Bangladeshi tweaker to fire with the ball.

One MCA official even went to the extent of saying that Enamul was being readied up for Maharashtra's away games since the said official was cocksure that turning decks would be on offer in our away games in Kanpur, Baroda and Bangalore.So what after the bowlers' wicketless ways in our first away game in Kanpur? Defintely, stuff like wicket is a batsman' delight would be a common alibi. Or what more? Let's hope his exclusion from the playing eleven is not construed as a decision taken because the track at Kanpur is a green top.

Even if the people choose this an alibi, then one can ask why Digambar Waghmare was persisted with and dropped instead of Enamul being wielded the axe.Miracles do happen in cricket and who knows Enamul could turn out for the Maharashtra Ranji side next season and that would be in sync with MCA's famous 'building a team for the future' at the cost of what, one is not sure. Clearly, the people who picked him will always put up a postiive

New Dawn

After serving out of the first two Ranji games on disciplinary grounds, Mondeep Mangela is itching to make it count with the ball

Suhrid Barua, Pune Mirror, November 25, 2008

be out of the side because of poor form or injury niggles is always a 'disappointing feeling' for any cricketer, but when one is kept on the sidelines on 'disciplinary grounds' and then afforded an opportunity to stage a return to the side, the urge to justify selection in the side is even more compelling.Maharashtra's outstation seamer Mondeep Mangela must be plumbing the same as he gears up to don the State colours in the third Ranji Trophy tie against Uttar Pradesh beginning in Kanpur on Sunday.

The right-arm seamer knows how to unleash bouncers on the batsmen and also knows a trick or two about coping with that, too. "I know what you are trying to ask me. You are referring to the disciplinary grounds on which I was kept out of the side. Let me tell you that whatever has happened is history and I'm looking ahead," he chooses his words carefully.

The 22-year-old bowler, who made his Ranji debut for Mumbai in the 2006-07 season, said that mistakes will happen but the important thing is to learn from that and not repeat again. "I'm human only, so I'm bound to commit mistakes. Nobody does it intentionally."It can be recalled that the BCCI's new ruling of having only one foreign player in State teams meant that the MCA was left with little 'time' and 'option' to find a replacement for Sri Lankan Sujeeva De Silva (he was originally picked along with Enamul Haque).

And the State association zeroed in on Mangela. So is he feeling jittery by the weight of expectations? "Pressure is there but I don't think so much about all these things. Obviously, the people who matter must have seen something in me and picked me to play for Maharashtra. They will be some level of expectations from me to contribute in the bowling department and I'm looking to live upto that," quipped the Air India employee.Maharashtra's bowling attack has largely revolved around Samad Fallah in the first two Ranji games, and there were growing signs that there was lack of support for the left-arm seamer.

So does he think that his inclusion in the eleven would ease the workload on Fallah? "Look, Fallah is in prime form at the moment. If I get picked to play against Uttar Pradesh, I would only be looking to get wickets and help my team do well. It's not my business to think whether my inclusion would ease the bowling burden on X or Y player. My job would be to execute the plans laid by our team think-tank, nothing more," Mangela said with a touch of maturity.

What would make Mangela's job easy (provided he gets to play against Uttar Pradesh) is that he and Fallah are good buddies. "Fallah and I go a long way. We've trained together at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore. I'm sure I am going to enjoy bowling in tandem with Fallah. Also, not many people don't know that Fallah is the biggest prankster in the side. You never know when you will pull a fast one," he concluded (grins).

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