Ranji Trophy: Pandey, Mithun return as Karnataka takes on Railways

After a tough run on the road, Karnataka will hope for maximum points from its two remaining home matches to help secure passage to the knock-out stages.

Manish Pandey during a nets session ahead of Karnataka's match against the Railways.   -  K. Murali Kumar

After a tough run on the road, Karnataka will hope for maximum points from its two remaining home matches to help secure passage to the knock-out stages of the Ranji Trophy. Defeat to Saurashtra and a draw against a doughty Gujarat side have left Karnataka in eighth place (15 points) on the combined Elite Group A and B table. This makes the games against Railways, starting here on Saturday, and Chhattisgarh (at the Alur grounds later this month) vital to progress.

The outcome in Surat earlier this week would have frustrated R. Vinay Kumar, whose men let the game slip from their grasp to settle for three points. But the Karnataka captain was in confident mood at the KSCA Stadium in Navule, as he welcomed Manish Pandey and Abhimanyu Mithun back to the squad. Pandey, who led the India-A one-day team in New Zealand this month, is set for his first Ranji Trophy outing this season. The middle-order batsman scored a match-winning, unbeaten 111 in the second one-dayer in Mount Maunganui. Vinay will hope he can maintain that form, especially in the absence of Mayank Agarwal, who has joined the Indian squad in Australia, and Karun Nair, whose thumb is yet to heal completely.

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Mithun's return from an ankle injury is no less significant. On a pitch that is expected to favour the seamers on the opening two days, the fast bowler should make an impact, alongside his skipper and the in-form Ronit More. Wicket-keeper Sharath Srinivas, who made his debut against Gujarat, will continue behind the stumps.

Railways has not enjoyed the greatest of campaigns, having drawn two and lost three of its five matches. Regular captain Mahesh Rawat is out with a back problem, with Arindam Ghosh taking over. But Karnataka will be wary of the opponent, whose two left-arm spinners Avinash Yadav and Harsh Tyagi have claimed 46 wickets between them this season.

The Navule ground was a pretty sight on match-eve, with the KSCA having spent in the region of Rs 10 lakh on sprucing up the baize-green outfield. The venue is hosting only its second Ranji Trophy match; the first was a thriller, as Karnataka prevailed over Hyderabad last year. The local faithful, who are expected to throng the stadium on the weekend, will expect similar entertainment again.

Squads (from):

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

Railways: Arindam Ghosh (capt.), Saurabh Wakaskar, Prashant Gupta, Pratham Singh, Nitin Bhille, Sahim Hasan, Manish Rao, Anureet Singh, Karan Thakur, Amit Mishra, Manjeet Choudhary, Faiz Ahmed, Gandhar Bhatawadekar, Avinash Yadav, and Harsh Tyagi

Umpires: Amish Saheba and Vineet Kulkarni; Referee: Rajib Deb Barma.