Almost two years ago, when Maharashtra were facing Goa at the Maharashtra Cricket Association’s stadium at Gahunje, on the outskirts of Pune, the home team’s coach Surendra Bhave was throwing instructions to his wards, while David Andrews, then Maharashtra U-19 coach, watched the proceedings from the stands.
Cut to Tuesday, and both Bhave and Andrews were in charge of opposing teams at the MCA Stadium, on the eve of the 82nd edition of the Ranji Trophy. While Andrews was overlooking Maharashtra’s preparations, Bhave kept a close eye on the Haryana nets on the other side of the pitch.
After his prolonged association with Maharashtra cricket ended on a bitter note last year, Bhave took up the role of Haryana’s coach. Bhave’s return to the home ground of his former team, however, is not the main talking point ahead of tomorrow’s match. Neither is the history between these two teams, who squared off against each other in a low-scoring match in Lahli last year.
Instead it was the presence of Virender Sehwag in the Haryana camp that created a buzz. Sehwag switched allegiance to Haryana after playing for Delhi all through his career and was at the centre of attention all through the teams’ four-hour training session.
After batting for well over half an hour, Sehwag, who will also lead the side, did a few stretching exercises with his personal yoga trainer. He then had a long chat with Bhave before joining the rest of his team-mates for a long slip-catching session and then headed to the mandatory meeting of match officials and captains.
Sehwag has barely spent a fortnight with his adopted team but has brought hope to an otherwise inconsistent Haryana unit. While Haryana’s bowling attack, led by Mohit Sharma and Amit Mishra [both players will miss this season’s opening game], was impressive last year, their batsmen let them down. Sehwag’s addition has given them much-needed hope that they can sort out their batting woes this season.
“He is a huge impact man. I don’t have to say what sort of an impact he has on any cricket team but he has been wonderful so far,” Bhave said. “He has been thoroughly involved. Every player he has spoken to personally and from what it seems, he is a very good mentor. Coming from him makes a huge difference [for players].”
Maharashtra’s training was just as thorough. While Andrews was confident of Maharashtra’s goal to “go one step further” than last year’s semi-final appearance with “Karnataka having set the benchmark of consistency”, his only concern was the lack of ideal preparations.
With the Ranji Trophy starting as early as October 1, all teams have seen their preparations marred by the monsoons at some stage over the last two months. Naturally, the first half of the tournament’s league stage will see teams struggling to cope as much with rustiness as with the October heat.
With showers predicted for Thursday in Pune, Maharashtra and Haryana will hope to shed their rustiness and find their groove right away.