Ranji Trophy quarterfinals: Heavyweights clash in neutral territory

As both Karnataka and Mumbai sweated it out at the Vidarbha Cricket Association stadium in Jamtha on Wednesday, despite having had contrasting campaigns in the league stage, the two outfits were grappling with similar issues on the eve of the quarter-final.

Aditya Tare and R. Vinay Kumar at the VCA Stadium in Nagpur on Wednesday.   -  Prashant Nakwe

In the historical context of India's premier domestic championship, they are the two most successful teams. Even in the recent past, Mumbai and Karnataka have shared four of the last five Ranji Trophy titles. Naturally, for a red-ball cricket connoisseur – there still are a few in the age of T20 – the quarter-final between the two giants is nothing between a final before the final.

However, as both the squads sweated it out at the Vidarbha Cricket Association stadium in Jamtha on Wednesday, despite having had contrasting campaigns in the league stage, the two outfits were grappling with similar issues on the eve of the quarter-final. Both the contingents would be hoping to fill in the voids created by their internationals with replacements that can rise to the occasion.

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For Karnataka, who topped the group A on the back of four outright wins, Manish Pandey and opener K.L. Rahul's absence will be felt in a big way. While Pandey will rejoin India's ODI squad for its series against Sri Lanka, Rahul has been asked to rest by the India team management ahead of the Twenty20 series against the Lankans and the following tour to South Africa. Karnataka also received a jolt with all-rounder Stuart Binny limping out of the pre-match training session and is a doubtful starter.

It will result in D. Nischal returning to the No. 3 slot in the batting order. Besides, Karnataka are also likely to field left-arm seamer S. Arvind, who has been recalled after having opted out after the first two games due to personal reasons.

Aditya Tare’s Mumbai, on the other hand, will have bigger issues to deal with. Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane aren't really considered in the team's Ranji scheme of things. To add to it, Shreyas Iyer, who recently made his T20I debut for India, has received his maiden ODI call-up. To make the matters worse, fast bowler Shardul Thakur dislocated his shoulder during the team's last league game against Tripura last week.

As a result, Mumbai will field all three specialist openers in the squad in the team, with left-handed Akhil Herwadkar set to replace Iyer at No. 3. Thakur's void is set to be filled by a débutante, with Shivam Malhotra and Shivam Dube vying for the slot.

Irrespective of the combination, the team that rises up to the occasion over the next five days on a sporting pitch at Jamtha will seal a place in the semi-finals. Will it be the 41-times champion Mumbai who has had a topsy-turvy league campaign? Or will it be the fancied Karnataka who have hardly put a foot wrong this season? Watch this space.

The teams (from):

Mumbai: Aditya Tare (Capt, wk), Suryakumar Yadav (Vice-capt), Jay Bista, Prithvi Shaw, Akhil Herwadkar, Siddhesh Lad, Akash Parkar, Dhawal Kulkarni, Karsh Kothari, Sufiyan Shaikh (wk), Sagar Trivedi, Vijay Gohil, Shivam Malhotra, Shivam Dube, Shubham Ranjane.

Karnataka: R. Vinay Kumar (Capt), Karun Nair (Vice-capt), R. Samarth, Mayank Agarwal, C.M. Gautam (wk), D. Nischal, K. Gowtham, Stuart Binny, Shreyas Gopal, Abhimanyu Mithun, S. Arvind, Ronit More, Pavan Deshpande, J. Suchith, Mir Kaunain Abbas, Sharath Srinivas.