Ranji Trophy 2018-19: Karnataka looks to seal last eight spot

Baroda’s fight will be spearheaded by its spinning trio of Bhargav Bhatt, Krunal Pandya, and Soaeb Tai.

Karnataka captain Manish Pandey during a practice session in Vadodara on Sunday.   -  Sudhakara Jain

The Ranji Trophy's new format has left the race for progress excitingly poised ahead of the final round of league fixtures.

In the combined table of the Elite A and B groups, as many as 10 teams are still in the reckoning for the five quarterfinal spots. Karnataka, though, has no reason to look nervously over its shoulder.

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Statistically ‘safe’

Manish Pandey's men are second on the table, and even if their spot in the last eight is not mathematically guaranteed yet, it would require a remarkable combination of results elsewhere to see them dumped out.

Stranger things have happened, though, and Karnataka will want to leave nothing to chance when its final group game, against Baroda, begins at the idyllic Moti Bagh cricket ground here on Monday.

Three points will seal the visitors’ spot in the last eight, regardless of other results, and this will be its first target. Karnataka is on the crest of a wave, having defeated Railways and Chhattisgarh in its previous two games.

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Sole aim

"[We will approach this game] just like the last two and all other games of the season: we want to win," said Pandey.

"Both those wickets (in Shivamogga and Alur) were batting-friendly. To pull off a win in the final session in both those games was incredible from our bowlers."

Baroda, on the other hand, is ninth (20 points) and needs an outright win to have any hope of a knockout berth. The home side has no option but to attack and this should ensure that this contest will not be a dull one.

Baroda's strength is its spin-bowling and it is safe to presume that the pitch will favour the trio of Bhargav Bhatt, Krunal Pandya, and Soaeb Tai.

All three spinners featured in the win against Railways in Delhi last week and accounted for 15 of the 18 wickets taken. Pandya, playing his first Ranji game of the season, was in devastating form.

He made scores of 160 and 104 in the two innings — no player from his side got more than 13 in the second dig — and claimed a match-haul of six for 59 with his left-arm spin.

Karnataka will be aware that Deepak Hooda and Yusuf Pathan are also capable of bowling part-time off-breaks.

Karun Nair is set to return to the Karnataka team.   -  K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

 

Turning track

“A lot of games have been played here this season. So the wicket could be slow; it might turn,” said Baroda captain Kedar Devdhar.

Karnataka has two fine spinners of its own in Shreyas Gopal and J. Suchith. The latter had been in excellent form, taking 23 wickets in four games, before making way for K. Gowtham.

But in the absence of Gowtham, who has been rested so as not to aggravate a finger injury, Suchith should return to the eleven. The Karnataka camp now has a decision to make.

The side can either field three pace-bowlers, as it has done all season, or include a third spinner in the 18-year-old left-armer Shubhang Hegde.

Pandey admitted that Karnataka was considering fielding three spinners.

Changes

"We're not used to playing on this kind of wicket. It looks like it might turn after some time. We'll take a final call after our team meeting," he said on Sunday.

Two changes are guaranteed, though, as Karun Nair and R. Samarth return from injury. The touring party appears the stronger on paper; Baroda, though, understands its conditions well. An entertaining contest seems in store.

The teams (from)

Karnataka: Manish Pandey (capt.), R. Vinay Kumar, Shreyas Gopal, D. Nischal, K.V. Siddharth, Karun Nair, R. Samarth, B.R. Sharath, J. Suchith, A. Mithun, Ronit More, Pavan Deshpande, Sharath Srinivas, Prasidh M. Krishna, and Shubhang Hegde.

Baroda: Kedar Devdhar (capt.), Atit Sheth, Yusuf Pathan, Krunal Pandya, Aditya Waghmode, Deepak Hooda, Vishnu Solanki, Mitesh Patel, Swapnil Singh, Rishi Arothe, Bhargav Bhatt, Soaeb Tai, Pratyush Yadav, Soyeb Sopariya, and Lukman Meriwala.

Officials: V. Narayanankutty (match referee), C. Shamsuddin and Anil Chaudhary (umpires).