Approaching the final few years of his highly successful cricketing career, former India skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni will take fresh guard when he leads the Jharkhand state team in their opening Vijay Hazare Trophy match of the season on Saturday. Jharkhand will take on Karnataka in a Group D fixture at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata. Having stepped down from India's limited-overs captaincy and recently removed as skipper of Rising Pune Supergiants, Dhoni will be relatively relaxed when he leads out his side on Saturday.
Ahead of the domestic one-dayers' event, Dhoni was seen accompanying his teammates to Kolkata in train second class AC, a first for him in 13 years.
On the eve of the clash against Karnataka, Dhoni was reunited with a familiar face in Karnataka batsman Robin Uthappa, who was part of Dhoni's triumphant Indian side at the World T20 in 2007.
The duo exchanged a warm affectionate hug as they met ahead of their respective teams' practice sessions.
They also had a long chat before Dhoni who was all padded up went in full flow at the nets facing pace and spin bowlers. Dhoni has an exciting bunch of youngsters at his disposal with Saurabh Tiwary, Virat Singh, Ishank Jaggi and Ishan Kishan coming into the team, fresh from winning the Syed Mushtaq Ali Twenty20 title for East Zone.
The opposition camp is equally exciting with Indian top order batsman Manish Pandey leading the side and the skipper has already made plans to target the former Indian captain.
"We all know, how great a batsman MS is... He's been an inspiration to all of us. It will be always nice to get MS out as early as possible," Pandey said.
"If we're able to do that it would be a great thing. It will be a real advantage for us as a team. We do have our plans to deal with MS. It will be all about disciplined bowling and how we conduct ourselves."
Pandey was hit on his left leg at the nets but the batsman shrugged it off saying a minor injury.
"It's a normal ball hit. I had an ice treatment. It should be fine by tomorrow. There's a little swelling but it's not a major injury."
Pandey, who won the IPL with Kolkata Knight Riders in 2014 with a match-winning 94, said it's like a homecoming for him as he is looking forward to rekindle the old magic with another Knight Rider Robin Uthappa.
"Robin and I have had some partnerships before. However, cricket remains the same. We have to do well on any ground. Nothing changes there. We will try to take the advantage of whatever knowledge we have of the ground. It should be a big help.
"Having played for KKR for three seasons, it's like a homecoming for me. The feel of the grass, the dressing room... it's an amazing feel out here. We spent about two and half months here during IPL."
Karnataka have a mix of experience and youth with the likes of senior players in Robin Uthappa, Stuart Binny.
There will be all eyes on IPL auction's two-crore pick K Gowtham, an off spinner and a hard-hitting batsman with a T20 strike rate of 166.66 while Mayank Agarwal, who's fresh from two half-centuries in Mushtaq Ali, will hope to give them a good start.
(With inputs from PTI)