Ranji Trophy: Confident Kerala takes on balanced Madhya Pradesh

With five teams from Pools A and B to make it to the knockout stage, the scramble to gain one of these spots is already on in right earnest now that most of the teams have gone through three matches in their respective groups.

Kerala players take part in a catch practice drill under the watchful eyes of coach Dav Whatmore on the eve of their Ranji Trophy league match against Madhya Pradesh.   -  S Mahinsha

It is another formidable hurdle, this time in the shape of Madhya Pradesh. But a confident Kerala, after its daring act at the Eden Gardens and sneaking into the top of the points table, is unlikely to give much leeway to the 1988-89 runners-up in the Ranji Trophy Elite Pool B match starting at the St. Xavier’s stadium, Thumba, from Wednesday.

With five teams from Pools A and B to make it to the knockout stage, the scramble to gain one of these spots is already on in right earnest now that most of the teams have gone through three matches in their respective groups.

It is much to the credit of the home team that it sits pretty with a tally of 13 points, thanks to the back to back wins against Andhra and mighty Bengal, the last within three days.

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But the side very well realises that it still has a long way to go before it could breathe easy and that thus does not have any reason to relax and throw away the advantage, especially while playing another home match.

The side, if it has leapfrogged tot he top spot, owes a lot to the all round skills of its professional player in Jalaj Saxena, who has continued in the same vein as he performed last season to take Kerala into the round of last eight for the first time.

With quickies Sandeep Warrier and Basil Thampi too getting into the act, the only worry that is faced by the home side is the slump in form of its elegant stroke player and wicket-keeper Sanju Samon, who unfortunately never managed to get off the mark in the last two matches after having started with a credible half century.

Sanju, midway through the final training session on Tuesday, was forced to retire due to a nagging headache, but later confirmed after a medical check up that he is fit to go the distance. The winning XI of the last match is also likely to be slightly altered with the inclusion of left arm spinner K. C. Akshay in place of medium-pacer M.D. Nidheesh.

Also read: Karnataka drops out-of-form Binny

Madhya Pradesh with five points from three matches, three gained at the expense of Punjab last week, has replaced Ankit Sharma with left arm spinner Kumar Karthikeya Singh, which only underlines that this ninth placed team has come well prepared.

The team will be hopeful of a determined showing of its batting line-up comprising skipper Naman Ojha, Rajat Patidar, Yash Dubey and Shubham Sharma to provide enough width for its bowlers spearheaded by Kuldeep Sen, Avesh Khan and Ishwar Chandra Pandey to bring about the desired result.

The teams

Kerala: Sachin Baby (captain), K.B. Arun Karthick, Jalaj Saxena, Rohan Prem, Sanju V. Samson (wicketkeeper), V. A. Jagadeesh, Salman Nizar, Akshay Chandran, Sandeep Warrier, Basil Thampi, K.C. Akshay, Vishnu Vinod, P. Rahul, Vinoop S. Manoharan, M.D. Nidheesh and C. V. Vinod Kumar.

Madhya Pradesh: Naman Ojha (captain, wicketkeeper), Rajat Patidar, Ankit Dane, Aryaman Birla, Shubham Sharma, Yash Dubey, Venkatesh Iyer, Anshul Tripathi, Ishwar Chandra Pandey, Avesh Khan, Kuldeep Sen, Mihir Hirwani, Saransh Jain, Kumar Karthikeya Sharma and  Mohnish Mishra.