Ranji Trophy: Kerala faces Haryana in must-win game

Currently standing second behind Gujarat in the points table with 24 points, the visitor is on the lookout to qualify for the first time after a gap of two decades.

Kerala will look to Basil Thampi and other pacers to deliver the goods in the seamer-friendly Lahli wicket.   -  Special Arrangement

The conditions being alien far from home, Kerala, in the hunt for a place in the knock-outs and left yet again in a must-win situation, does have its task cut out as it takes on Haryana in the last Group B Ranji Trophy league match at the Chaudhary Bansi Lal cricket stadium here from Saturday.

Currently standing second behind Gujarat in the points table with 24 points, the visitor is on the lookout to qualify for the first time after a gap of two decades. But it will face three major hurdles in the form of the weather, a seaming track in comparison to the slow wickets back home and a rejuvenated opponent which finally has found its touch, winning over Jammu & Kashmir in its last tie.

Changes needed

That indeed does mean that Kerala will have to readjust its strategy for the encounter and make quite a few changes in the playing XI for this do-or-die match. At home, it was undoubtedly its trio of spinners – Jalaj Saxena, Sijomon Joseph and K. C. Akshay (or K. Monish before he was injured) – with an impeccable, disciplined display which had helped the side win against Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Jammu & Kashmir and Saurashtra.

Read: Karnataka in race to cement top spot

But on a green top which looks set to seam either way all day, the side will for the first time this season looking to its pacers Sandeep Warrier, Basil Thampi and M.D. Nidheesh to deliver the goods. It is interesting, then, on the final XI with which Kerala will take the field on Saturday, with Akshay already being left out of the 15.

On the batting front, Sanju V. Samson, with centuries in back-to-back centuries in the last three first class games he has played, will once again be Kerala’s strongest weapon alongside Rohan Prem, Jalaj Saxena, K.B. Arun Karthick, wicket-keeper Mohammed Azharuddeen and skipper Sachin Baby, though the latter has not done much justice to his capabilities during the last three matches.

Haryana’s success, Saurashtra’s bonus

Haryana, hit hard by serious injuries to its key players all along, has had a dismal season so far and was able to notch up its first win only against Jammu & Kashmir in a low-scoring encounter. With Himanshu Rana away on duty with the Under-19 squad, the home team is already forced to make a change in its winning combination for the match in hand.

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But the side under Amit Sharma, now left in the fifth position in the standings with just 9 points in its kitty, will be on the lookout to put behind all the disappointment suffered in the long haul and end the season on a high. In the event of the home side being able to stop Kerala, it is certain to turn out to be a bonus for Saurashtra (23), which will be playing away against Rajasthan in its match, to qualify behind Gujarat (27) – which needs only a draw against Jharkhand – and make the grade.

The teams (from)
  • Kerala: Sachin Baby (c), Sanju V. Samon, Jalaj Saxena, Mohammed Azharuddeen, Rohan Prem, K. B. Arun Karthick, Sandeep Warrier, Basil Thampi, M. D. Nidheesh, Vishnu Vinod, Sijomon Joseph, Salman Nizar, Fabid Farooque Ahmed, K. M. Asif, C. V. Vinod Kumar.
  • Haryana: Amit Sharma (c), G. A. Singh, S. G. Rohilla, C. K. Bishnoi, S. R. Chauhan Rajat Paliwal, R. P. Sharma, H. V. Patel, A. K. Chahal, A. H. Hooda, A. R. Rana, R. K. Tewatia, P. B. Mehta, Arun Chaprana, A. S. Sandhu.