Ranji Trophy semis: Confident Karnataka hopes to end Vidarbha’s dream run

Despite Karnataka’s sub-par performances in its previous two Ranji Trophy campaigns, skipper R. Vinay Kumar has no doubts about the pedigree of his men. In his eyes, the team had suffered but a minor blip, and has now once again taken its rightful place in the business end of the tournament.

Shreyas Gopal had a memorable outing in the Ranji Trophy quarterfinals.   -  Prashant Nakwe

Despite Karnataka’s sub-par performances in its previous two Ranji Trophy campaigns, skipper R. Vinay Kumar has no doubts about the pedigree of his men. In his eyes, the team had suffered but a minor blip, and has now once again taken its rightful place in the business end of the tournament.

“We’ve been in the semifinals many times, and we’ve won the Ranji Trophy two times in the last four years. We have the big-match experience,” Vinay said here on Saturday.

While Karnataka enters the field as an eight-time champion, Vidarbha makes its maiden appearance in the semifinal round. Under coach Chandrakant Pandit, who took charge at the start of the season, Vidarbha has enjoyed a dream run, recording five victories in seven matches. Captain Faiz Fazal (831 runs) and his opening partner Sanjay Ramaswamy (696 runs) have come good, sitting second and fifth respectively on the list of highest run-scorers. Middle-order batsmen Wasim Jaffer and Ganesh Satish – he once turned out for Karnataka, before making Vidarbha his home in 2014 – have delivered the goods as well. A struggling Apoorv Wankhade found form with a century in the quarterfinal, against Kerala.

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On the bowling front, express pacer Umesh Yadav is expected to join the squad, but his participation in the encounter has not been confirmed. Fellow speedster Lalit Yadav, who recorded a five-for against Karnataka last year, is out with an injury. Off-spinner Akshay Wakhare and left-arm spinner Aditya Sarwate have 54 wickets between them, and spearhead the attack.

Much like Vidarbha, Karnataka too boasts of a reliable opening combination. Mayank Agarwal has racked up 1142 runs, including four centuries and an unbeaten triple-century. If Mayank is the aggressor, R. Samarth lends a stable hand at the other end. The duo have ensured that K.L. Rahul's frequent absences has not stopped Karnataka from making good starts.

D. Nischal, who injured his finger against Railways last month, is fit to play. He is expected to take Kaunain Abbas’s place in the XI. All-rounder Stuart Binny, who missed the quarterfinal due to an ankle injury, is also back in action. Pavan Deshpande is likely to make way for Stuart.

Offspiner K. Gowtham (34 wickets) - the second-highest wicket-taker of the tournament - and Shreyas Gopal form an incisive spin department.

Team morale is high, after the thumping innings victory over Mumbai in the last-eight. Vinay, however, sought to play down suggestions that Karnataka start as favourites. “Vidarbha is a very good side. We can’t take things lightly, especially in the semifinal stage. They want to win as much as we do,” Vinay said.