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Former Ranji champions Punjab eye good start sans Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh

Punjab stalwarts Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan Singh won’t figure in the opening Ranji Trophy game, but the team is confident the talent available will ensure a good show this season.

cricket Updated: Oct 03, 2017 20:36 IST
Shalini Gupta
Shalini Gupta
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Ranji Trophy,Yuvraj Singh,Harbhajan Singh
Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan Singh won’t figure in Punjab’s Ranji Trophy opener against Himachal Pradesh, starting Friday. (HT Photo )

With no matches on neutral venues in the coming Ranji Trophy tournament, former champions Punjab would be aiming to make the most and secure at least a quarterfinal berth.

Punjab struggled last season, failing to qualify for the Ranji Trophy knockout stage. With a new coach in former India wicketkeeper, Ajay Ratra, Punjab are keen to start their campaign on a winning note as they take on Himachal Pradesh in their opening Group D game starting on Friday.

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The Punjab Cricket Association though has been forced to hand the captaincy around. It named Harbhajan Singh first, but went to Yuvraj Singh after it found that the off-spinner won’t be available for the first few games. But Yuvraj too has pulled out of the opening game, leaving batsman Jiwanjot Singh to lead the team.

Ajay Ratra is happy with the preparations. “Yuvraj has been spending a lot of time with the boys in the nets and giving me useful inputs. We had a good weeklong camp preparatory. Punjab did not do well last season, but that is in the past.

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“Punjab is a talented bunch and their skills should be used in an apt manner. Once Harbhajan and Yuvraj join the squad, Punjab will be a power-packed side along with key players like Jiwanjot Singh, Manan Vohra, Manpreet Gony, Gurkeerat Singh Mann. Some will be making their Ranji debuts soon.”

Though the selectors have included first-timers Shubman Gill (18), Abhishek Sharma (17), Abhishek Gupta (27), Raghu Sharma (24) and Anmolpreet Singh (19), Punjab’s fortunes will largely depend on how well the seniors perform.

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While Yuvraj was in the Mohali camp with Ratra, Harbhajan is expected to join the squad in Dharamsala. “I’ve spoken to Harbhajan and he will be soon available. We will assess his match-fitness ahead of the games. He will be around the team even if he is not playing the initial games,” added Ratra.

What can work in Punjab’s favour this time is the team playing three home matches in favourable conditions.

Yuvraj will miss the opening game against Himachal as he will be in the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore for a BCCI fitness test. Punjab will be without batsman Mandeep Singh for the entire season after he underwent a back surgery in August.

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“Yuvi paaji has been working hard in the nets and on his fitness. Hopefully he will be available for the second game against Vidarbha, starting in Mohali on October 14,” said Jiwanjot, who has been a prolific scorer since making his Punjab debut in 2012.

“Dharamsala offers a green wicket and we will make our strategy accordingly. We have a good pace attack including Manpreet Gony, Barinder Sran and Sandeep Sharma and experienced batsmen like Gurkeerat Mann, Uday Kaul and Taruwar Kohli,” he said.

“We did not click as a unit last season on neutral venues. There was a lot of travelling too. We are better prepared this time. We have had a lot pep talk sessions with the coach and Yuvi paaji,” said Jiwanjot.

Speedster Siddarth Kaul will also miss the first two matches as he will be turning out for India ‘A’ against New Zealand ‘A’ in Visakhapatnam in a five-match one-day series.

Punjab are in Group D with Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Services and Vidarbha. They will face Bengal, Vidarbha and Services in Mohali.

Punjab’s Ranji Trophy schedule:

October 6-9 -- v Himachal Pradesh -- Dharamsala

October 14-17 – v Vidarbha -- Mohali

October 24-27 – v Goa -- Goa

November 1-4 – v Chhattisgarh -- Raipur

November 17-20 – v Bengal -- Mohali

November 25-28 -- v Services -- Mohali

First Published: Oct 03, 2017 20:36 IST