Tirunelveli, July 22: A cracker of a contest is on the cards when last year's finalists Dindigul Dragons meet Madurai Panthers in the Tamil Nadu Premier League (TNPL) here on Monday (July 22).
The face-off between the top teams of last season befits an important occasion as it will be the 100th match of the TNPL and also the first of this season to be held at India Cements Ltd -Sankar Nagar ground.
Interestingly, both teams are running high on confidence having begun their campaigns of the fresh season on a smart note at the NPR College ground, Natham. While Dindigul Dragons upstaged Chepauk Super Gillies by 10 runs, the defending champions SMP were ruthless, demolishing former champions Tuti Patriots by nine wickets on Saturday.
There is not much to separate the teams. Both teams are led by inspirational captains - Ravichandran Ashwin (DD) and KB Arun Karthick (SMP). It was evident in how they marshalled their resources in their opening matches, while upstaging their respective rivals.
Karthick may not have the international experience like Ashwin, who is also a solid all-rounder, but he makes that up with top-class batsmanship. Already the 33-year-old opener is the highest run-getter in the league (930 runs) and also holds the record for the most number of fifties (11) in the league's history.
Having defeated Dindigul by seven wickets in Season 3 final and begun this season on a winning note, Karthick says his camp is bubbling with confidence. "Since last year's win, we have been in a good space. To start the tournament with a win feels good," he said.
The SMP captain admits it will be special to be playing the 100th match of a tournament that has helped many a player gain national recognition since its inception four years ago.
"I'm definitely very excited to play the 100th game because TNPL is one platform which has given life for lot of cricketers. It has been a stepping stone for many cricketers to go up the ladder and to play for the country, IPL or even Ranji Trophy. It is a great platform and it is a great opportunity for me. I am very happy to be playing the 100th game as well," he said.
Karthick, however, feels Dindigul pose a stiff challenge as they have some quality players in their ranks. "Dindigul has always been a very good side in TNPL. Not just bowling, they have a good batting line up. They have Ashwin, Jagadeesan .... It is a good challenge," he said.
Incidentally, Dindigul hold a 4-1 advantage over SMP in five meetings so far with their only defeat coming in the summit clash last year. Dindigul all-rounder Varun Totadri admits they have to be on their toes against SMP, who are in the midst of a good run.
"We just want to bowl really well from the start with no loose balls. Madurai Panthers batted really well last game so we have to keep it tight from the start from ball one," he said.
The 23-year-old Totadri is hoping to carry on from where they left in the previous match. "We're looking at the positives from the last game. We are looking to stick to our strengths because we're a very good side and we have a good leader in Ravi Ashwin. So, more than focusing on them, we are looking to focus on doing a good job when it comes to our plans," he said.
Match timings: 7:15 PM onwards
Live on:Star Sports 3, Star Sports (Tamil), Vijay Super
Head to Head: Dindigul Dragons 4, Siechem Madurai Panthers 1
TEAMS: Dindigul Dragons: C Hari Nishaanth, Narayan Jagadeesan (WK), Ravichandran Ashwin (captain), NS Chaturved, R Vivek, Sumant Jain, Mohan Abhinav, M Mohammed, Ramalingam Rohit, M Silambarasan, Jagannathan Kaushik, Yazh Arun Mozhi, Varun M Totadri, Adithya Arun, H Trilok Nag.
Madurai Panthers: Arun Karthick KB (captain), A Sarath Raj, Nilesh Subramanian (WK), P Shijit Chandran, Jagatheesan Kousik, Akash Sumra, Abhishek Tanwar, Ramachandran Mithun, L Kiran Akash, Lokesh Raj, Rahil S Shah, Sabin Somatha Karnavar, MS Promoth, R Karthikeyan, Adithya Giridhar.