It was a perfect game for Kerala. The innings-victory against Meghalaya, completed with a day to spare, has put Kerala on top of Group A in the Ranji Trophy.

But tougher challenges await Sachin Baby’s men, beginning on Thursday, when they begin their match against Gujarat, the 2016-17 champion, at the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium.

And they are facing a wounded Gujarat - beaten by Madhya Pradesh by 106 runs, as it was dismissed for 88 in the second innings.

Gujarat will be without its captain and run-machine Priyank Panchal, who has left the city to join India’s Test team for the series against Sri Lanka. Kerala is also in a similar situation: its best batter Sanju Samson has joined India’s T20 team, but he hadn’t played against Meghalaya.

With three of the specialist batters scoring centuries and another making a fifty, Kerala may not miss Sanju as much Gujarat may Panchal. Coach Tinu Yohannan needn’t worry about the form of the bowlers, either.

Kerala had fielded four seamers on a green-top against Meghalaya and all of them had bowled well. That match though was played at the ‘C’ Ground. 

So it will be interesting to see if Kerala decides to retain its four pacers or try to lengthen the batting line-up. Left-arm spinner Kumar Kartikeya had taken five wickets in Gujarat’s second innings, at the main stadium, the venue of this match.

So Kerala’s spinners, Jalaj Saxena and Sijomon Joseph, neither of whom was required in Meghalaya’s first innings, may have bigger roles to play. But the focus would be more on the 17-year-old seamer Edhen Apple Tom, who had made a stunning debut last week, with wickets off his first balls in either innings.

The other quicks, Basil Thampi, Manu Krishnan and S. Sreesanth, also impressed. The batting, featuring P. Rahul, Rohan Kunnummal, Vathsal Govind, Sachin Baby and Vishnu Vinood, looks in good shape too.

The same, however, cannot be said of Gujarat’s batting line-up, which includes skipper Bhargav Merai, Manprit Juneja and Kathan Patel. For wickets, Gujarat will be looking to seamers Roosh Kalaria, Chintan Gaja and Arzan Nagwaswalla and left-arm spinner Siddharth Desai.

The teams

Kerala: Sachin Baby (captain), P. Rahul, Rohan Kunnumal, Jalaj Saxena, Vathsal Govind, Vishnu Vinod, Sijomon Joseph, Manu Krishnan, Basil Thampi, S. Sreesanth, Edhen Apple Tom, N.P. Basil, M.D. Nidheesh, Anand Krishnan, F. Fanoos, Salman Nizar, Varun Nayanar, Vinoop Manoharan, K.C. Akshay and S. Midhun.

Gujarat: Bhargav Merai (captain), Het Patel, Rujul Bhatt, Saurav Chauhan, Siddharth Desai, Chintan Gaja, Manan Hingrajia, Manprit Juneja, Roosh Kalaria, Umang Kumar, Jayveer Parmar, Kathan Patel, Tejas Patel, Karan Patel, Priyesh Patel, Abhinav Tandel and Parth Vaghani.