Ranji Trophy: Red hot Karnataka takes on determined Maharashtra

While Karnataka is looking in ominous form, having won both its first games, the host is determined to build on its fine victory against Uttar Pradesh in the last match.

In-form Karnataka will bank on the likes of Karun Nair, Mayank Agarwal and R. Samarth to come good in absence of star batsman K.L. Rahul.   -  G.P. Sampath Kumar

In February, a minefield of a wicket saw India capitulate against Australia in the first-ever Test at Pune. A week ago, a sting operation conducted by a television channel, ahead of the second one-dayer between India and New Zealand, saw curator Pandurang Salgaonkar lose his job.

Now, as Maharashtra and Karnataka prepare to lock horns at the same venue - in what should be an interesting Group-A Ranji Trophy encounter - the pitch would hopefully hog the limelight for the right reason.

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While Karnataka is looking in ominous form, having won both its first matches, the host is determined to build on its fine victory against Uttar Pradesh in the last match.

And it was a badly needed win for Maharashtra, after its first game against Hyderabad was washed off completely by rain. “Yes, it was frustrating that we could get just one point at Hyderabad,” coach Surendra Bhave said. “But, I am glad the way the boys bounced back and defeated Uttar Pradesh at Lucknow.”

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Off-spinner Chirag Khurana was the star in that match, taking 12 wickets. Bhave, however, feels his seamers too might have a role to play in this match.

“There is a bit of grass on the wicket,” he said. “And at this time of the year, when the winter is settling in, medium-pacers could create problems here.”

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Bhave's counterpart P.V. Shashikanth echoed his views. “I expect the wicket to assist seamers, at least early on in the match,” the Karnataka coach said. “And we have plenty of options in that department in captain R. Vinay Kumar, Abhimanyu Mithun, Ronit More and Stuart Binny.”

Spinners K. Gowtham and Shreyas Gopal too have been in fine form for Karnataka this season. As far as batting is concerned, the coach is not troubled by the absence of K.L. Rahul, who has joined the Indian squad for the Twenty20 series against New Zealand. He will have the likes of Karun Nair, Mayank Agarwal and R. Samarth to turn to.

On the other hand, Maharashtra will bank on skipper Ankit Bawne, Swapnil Gagule and Rahul Tripathi for runs with the bat. The injury to seasoned seamer Anupam Sanklecha, however, is a blow.

"But I am confident that other medium-pacers like Shrikant Munde, Samad Fallah and Pradeep Dadhe will make up for his absence," said Bhave.

The teams (from):

Maharashtra: Ankit Bawne (captain), Swapnil Gugale, Harshad Khadiwale, Om Bhosale, Prayag Bhati, Satyajeet Bchhav, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Rahul Tripathi, Naushad Shaikh, Rohit Motwani, Chirag Khurana, Shrikant Mundhe, Samad Fallah, Nikit Dhumal and Pradeep Dadhe. Coach: Surendra Bhave.

Karnataka: R. Vinay Kumar (captain), R. Samarth, Mayank Agarwal, Karun Nair, Dega Nischal, C.M. Gautam, Stuart Binny, Shreyas Gopal, K. Gowtham, Abhimanyu Mithun, Ronit More, J. Suchith, Kaunain Abbas, Pavan Deshpande and Sharath Srinivas. Coach: P.V. Shashikanth.