Ranji Trophy 2018-19 quarterfinals: Kerala raring to go against Gujarat

While Gujarat appears favourite on paper, host Kerala will be hoping to do justice to its giant-killer tag.

Kerala coach Dav Whatmore with the players and support staff in Wayanad on Monday.   -  RANJITH PERALAM

The last time Kerala played at the picturesque Wayanad Cricket Stadium, the team had a bunch of talented young men who would mostly flatter to deceive. Four years on, those men have been turned into giant-killers, thanks to a World-Cup winning coach from Australia, Dav Whatmore.

The coach, who guided Sri Lanka to its only World Cup title in 1996, must be hoping his boys would turn the table on yet another former champion as the side takes on Gujarat in the Ranji Trophy quarterfinal encounter from Tuesday.

If they do, they would tread on territories no Kerala team has in the past, besides avenging their loss at Nadiad last season.

Sachin Baby and his men are indeed in a confident frame of mind, having won four matches in the league stage – more than anybody else in the toughest Groups (A and B). The bowling has been that good.

In Sandeep Warrier and Basil Thampi, Kerala has a new ball attack that is as good as any in domestic cricket at the moment. Together, they have taken 56 wickets so far.

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But it was the third seamer, M.D. Nidheesh, who did most of the damage in the last match against Himachal Pradesh at Nadaun. In the must-win game, he had registered career-best figures of six for 88 in the first innings.

The off-spin of Jalaj Saxena has also contributed significantly in making Kerala a formidable bowling unit. A niggle on his ankle had prevented from playing in Himachal and the host must be praying for his full recovery. For, he has also been the team’s leading run-getter this season, with 479 runs.   

Skipper Baby, with 455, is second in the list. With Sanju Samson, opener P. Rahul, Mohammed Azharuddeen and Vishnu Vinod around, there is quality in Kerala batting, but it needs to be consistent.

Gujarat’s formidable batting line-up is led by opener Priyank Panchal, who has already amassed 887 runs in the competition. But the visitor could miss Manpreet Juneja, its second highest scorer.

In Piyush Chawla, Axar Patel and Siddharth Desai, Gujarat has excellent spinners, but captain Parthiv Patel indicated only two of them could play. “It looks like the wicket could suit seamers,” he said.

The greenish tinge at the wicket may have pleased his counterpart, but there have been occasions when the appearances proved deceptive on this track. “We are all confident as every player has contributed and we have won in different conditions,” said Baby.

The teams (from)

Kerala: Sachin Baby (captain), P. Rahul, Vinoop S. Manoharan, V. A. Jagadeesh, Mohammed Azharuddeen, Sanju Samson, Vishnu Vinod,  Sijomon Joseph, Sandeep Warrier, Basil Thampi, M. D. Nidheesh, Rohan Prem, Jalaj Saxena, K. Monish, Arun Karthik, Akshay Chandran and Abhishek Mohan.

Gujarat: Parthiv Patel (captain), Kathan Patel, Priyank Panchal, Rujul Bhatt, Roosh Kalaria, Axar Patel, Chintan Gaja, Piyush Chawla, Arzan Nagwaswalla, Karan Patel, Siddharth Desai, Dhruv Raval, Parth Vaghani, Chirag Gandhi and Rahul Shah.

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