Maharashtra skipper Ankit Bawne has expressed confidence in his team ahead of the upcoming Ranji Trophy season given the team’s success in the Vijay Hazare Trophy. He further heaped praise on the youngsters, discussed his team’s chances in the tournament, and opened up on his personal success.
Maharashtra are all set to begin their search for a maiden Ranji Trophy in over 80 years when they take on Delhi in Pune on December 13 in the season opener. The side narrowly missed out on their maiden Vijay Hazare Trophy triumph recently, having made it all the way to the final only to end up second-best to Saurashtra by 5-wickets. Nevertheless, first-class skipper Ankit Bawne believes the team is shaping up well for the upcoming campaign on the back of their journey in the 50-over tournament, leading to a buoyant team environment.
“When I talk about the team, our confidence is very high because we just came from a very good Vijay Hazare Trophy. Everyone is gelling so well, which is very important when you play a team sport. Everybody is on the same page and there is a great mixture of youngsters and senior players in the team right now. We can really capitalize on the occasions and capture the key moments. Thanks to the association for finding out this young squad that is actually ready to perform on the big stage,” Bawne revealed in an interview with Sportscafe.
Maharashtra have their work cut out in the Ranji Trophy considering they have been drawn in Elite Group B, comprising some giants of the Indian domestic scene such as Saurashtra, Mumbai, Tamil Nadu, and Delhi amongst others. Last time around, the west Indian outfit had been eliminated in the group stages itself following a loss to Uttar Pradesh and a draw against Vidarbha, in a format that saw only four teams make up an Elite group. However, Bawne believes that in the way that Indian cricket is evolving, the line between the top teams and minnows has blurred, thereby placing emphasis on playing to the team’s potential regardless of opponent.
“I feel nowadays it’s really important that you play well on a matchday, doesn’t matter what names are there. We have seen a lot of teams that don’t have many renowned players, but they still end up beating the so-called good side. So, I feel it doesn’t matter how strong your team is on paper, you just have to deliver on the match day. As a team, as I said our confidence is very high because we just came from a successful white ball tournament and we would like to continue that in red-ball cricket also,” Ankit remarked.
“Cricket is going to improve no matter what. Some teams came to the spotlight only a couple of years ago in the domestic circuit but with continuous practice, good coaching, and exposure, they are only going to improve. The game is such that if you practice for long durations – if you have camps for three to four months and practice with the same unit for 2-3 years, the players are going to improve. Plus, nowadays, there are so many big tournaments. If you talk about the IPL, you talk about India ‘A’, if a couple of your peers go on to play for these teams then the other guys get motivated. So if that’s going to happen with the small teams as well then they are going to improve,” he added.
Bawne himself has been enjoying a purple patch of form, making strides in the white-ball game. Having excelled in the Ranji Trophy for years, including a commendable tally of 270 runs last season at an average of 67.50, the middle-order batter had his most impressive Vijay Hazare Trophy campaign to date in 2022. He ended up as the tournament’s fourth-highest run-getter, with the top three all being openers, tallying 587 runs at an average of 83.85 including two centuries and as many fifties. Notably, the 28-year-old had a strike rate of 101.55, a significant uptick on his career List-A strike rate of 74.95.
“I was there for two and a half months this year in Chennai and particularly practiced for white-ball cricket only. In the shorter format, I knew I can hit sixes and have that strength, but I trained just to be able to do that consistently. In the one-day or T20 format, it can’t be like you score a century and then don’t perform for 10 games, it doesn’t work like that. If you want to be consistent, you have to be at your prime and it will only come if you have a number of balls and practice sessions behind you. So I really worked on my shots and the areas in which I can hit, and this year, it really worked for me. Everything was coming through very smoothly. Whenever I got under pressure, I was able to hit those sixes, and all that hard work I did in Chennai really paid off,” Ankit said of his success.
Maharashtra boast of an impressive array of youth players in their ranks, several of whom have been pipped to represent India in the future. Opener Pavan Shah has been particularly impressive, having notched a double century in his debut first-class season and ending the latest Ranji Trophy as his team’s leading run-getter.
“Pavan is doing great, he is an exceptional youngster. I think Pavan Shah and the three guys who were a part of the Indian U-19 team – Kaushal Tambe, Rajvardhan Hangargekar, and Vicky Ostwal. They are great cricketers, they have great habits, they have great work ethics, and they are really ahead of the game. So I think these four youngsters are really to look out for,” Bawne concluded on the matter.
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