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Reputation at stake for Uttar Pradesh

Special Correspondent

KANPUR: The tasks are different for Andhra and Uttar Pradesh. The team from the south is pursuing recognition while Uttar Pradesh, the defending champion, will battle to avoid relegation as they meet in the last round of the Ranji Trophy elite group match here.

"If we qualify (for the semifinals) it will mean a lot to us. It will mean recognition as a team worthy of giving players to the national team. It will mean recognition for all the hard work we have put in during the past few seasons," stressed Y. Venugopala Rao, skipper of the Andhra side and by far one of the best middle-order batsmen qualified to stake claims in the Test combination.

For some strange reasons, Venugopala has not figured in the scheme of things that Greg Chappell and Rahul Dravid have formulated to take Indian cricket forward but the technically and temperamentally assured young batsman has continued to excel.

K.S. Shahabuddin, another performer, has given his best to Andhra, taking wickets and scoring runs, season after season. "He is a great asset for us," confirmed Venugopala as he watched the burly all-rounder smash the ball around at the `nets' held at the Kamla Club, the venue for the four-day match.

`United bunch'

Andhra has progressed as a cricket team with a strong belief in itself. Former Test wicketkeeper M. S. K. Prasad, now a senior member, averred, "We are a united bunch. Everyone is allowed to give his opinion and the decisions are collective. At the start of the season, we interacted with some former Andhra captains and the team has benefited a lot from those sessions. We back ourselves to take on the best now."

The pitch, as Venugopala observed, looks docile and there lies the biggest challenge for Andhra, which has 12 points to its credit.

Inconsistent performance

Uttar Pradesh has struggled from the time it lost to Haryana in two days at Rohtak. "It has been tough. I and Suresh (Raina) have not been able to score consistently and that has affected the team a lot. Another factor has been the sacking of some seniors. Their experience would have come in handy. The immediate job is to avoid relegation and all of us realize that. Whatever the preparation outside, once you are in the middle you have to fight your own battles," said captain Mohammad Kaif.

The challenge for coach Rajinder Singh Hans is high. "The batsmen have failed and need to fire here. Being relegated is certainly not what we aimed at. I am sure the boys are motivated to give their best, even if a little late." Missing from the Uttar Pradesh ranks is Jyoti Yadav, skipper in the first two matches. He has been sacked on disciplinary grounds

The teams (from): Andhra: Y. Venugopala Rao (Captain), L.N. Prasad Reddy, A.S.K. Verma, M.S.K. Prasad, R.V.C. Prasad, K.S. Shahbuddin, Mohammed Faiq, D. Kalyankrishna, P. Vijaykumar, Manoj Sai, Y. Gnaneswar Rao, J.T. Yadav and M. Sheshavalli.

Uttar Pradesh: Mohammad Kaif (Captain), Suresh Raina, Shivakant Shukla, Ravikant Shukla, R.P. Singh, Amir Khan, Praveen Kumar, Shalabh Srivastava, Tahir Abbas, Anshul Kapoor, Ratnesh Mishra, Rohit Prakash, Ali Murtaza, Praveen Gupta, Ali Hamid Zaidi and Utkarsh Chandra.

Umpires: Suresh Shastri and Avik Mitra. Match Referee: Madhav Ranade.

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