The new season of Ranji Trophy, India's premier domestic tournament, began on Thursday, amid the experiment of neutral venues and threats of rain disruption.
This is the first time the BCCI has decided to have matches at neutral venues, and all teams play each other away from home, all over the country.
Reigning champions Mumbai open their season against Tamil Nadu at Lahli. The team will be led by wicketkeeper Aditya Tare, who had led Mumbai to their 41st title last season. The squad also includes Arman Jaffer, the 19-year-old nephew of former India opener Wasim Jaffer.
For Delhi, newly appointed chief coach KP Bhaskar is confident that a young Unmukt Chand would prove to be a good leader in the absence of the seasoned Gautam Gambhir. A young Delhi team take on last year's surprise package Assam in their opening encounter in Vadodara.
Chand will be leading Delhi for the first time, as regular skipper Gautam Gambhir is on national duty.
"We will definutely miss Gambhir's experience with the bat as well as in the field. But Unmukt has proved that he is a fine leader, having led India Under-19 as well as India A. So I have confidence in his leadership abilities," Bhaskar told PTI on the eve of the match.
The former Delhi batsman further added that the rain factor is worrying him. "There was heavy downpour on Wednesday and that's why we didn't have nets. Hopefully the rain stays away tomorrow and we get to start the match on time. It would be nice to start on a winning note," the coach said, stating that he would like to go with five bowlers.
It is expected that Delhi will play both their left-arm spinners, Manan Sharma and Varun Sood.
While Chand is likely to have Rishabh Pant as his opening partner, the middle-order will feature Milind Kumar, Mohit Sharma, Nitish Rana and Vaibhav Rawal. Pradeep Sangwan, Navdeep Saini and Parvinder Awana are likely to form a three-pronged pace line-up.
For Assam, new coach Sunil Joshi will have to depend on his new ball pair of Krishna Das and Arup Das, while the batting line-up consists of skipper Gokul Sharma and outstation players Amit Varma and KB Arun Karthick. Local players like Tarjinder Singh, Sarupam Purkayastha, Shib Sankar Roy are also capable of significant contributions.
Meanwhile, Saurashtra will miss the services of key players Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravindra Jadeja, as Jaydev Shah, who broke the record of playing most matches as a captain last year, will lead the side in its first game against Rajasthan at Chennai.
When asked about the BCCI's decision on neutral venues, Saurashtra head coach Sitanshu Kotak said it did not matter whether the team plays at the home ground or away. "Last year, before reaching the final, we had won nine matches and most of the matches were won while playing away," he said.
"We need to play better cricket and the 17-member squad declared by SCA is a balanced side. We have a good combination of experienced (players) and talented newcomers, and it's difficult for the team management to pick 11 best players out of the 17," Kotak said.
Punjab's Amitoze Singh, Kushang Patel from Gujarat, and Maharashtra's Sunil Yadav will all turn out for Saurashtra in the tournament.
Sheldon Jackson, who hit two consecutive centuries in the Duleep Trophy recently, would be the mainstay in batting for Saurashtra, and will be supported by skipper Jaydev Shah, Sagar Jogiyani, Avi Barot, Arpit Vasavada.
For Punjab, Yuvraj Singh will lead the side in Harbhajan Singh's absence in their opening match against Railways, to be played at Palam Ground. Off-spinner Harbhajan, who was named skipper originally, is not available for the first match, PCA spokesperson Sushil Kapoor had said.
The other matches on Thursday are Baroda vs Gujarat in Jaipur, Jharkhand vs Maharashtra in Delhi, Odisha vs Vidarbha in Vizag, Chhattisgarh vs Tripura in Ranchi, Goa vs Hyderabad in Nagpur, Haryana vs Services in Mumbai, Kerala vs Jammu and Kashmir in Kalyani, Madhya Pradesh vs Uttar Pradesh in Hyderabad, Andhra vs Himachal Pradesh in Bhubaneshwar.
With inputs from PTI