Ranji Trophy: Karnataka keen to get back to winning ways

For a team seemingly on an unstoppable success train, Karnataka received its first challenge of the season against Odisha in its previous game, and both coach J. Arun Kumar and captain R. Vinay Kumar have already sought more responsibility from the players ahead of the Saurashtra match.

A win here would all but confirm Karnataka, already comfortably ahead of the competition with 30 points from six games and yet to lose, as one of the Ranji Trophy quarterfinalists.   -  K. Murali Kumar

For a team seemingly on an unstoppable success train, Karnataka received its first challenge of the season against Odisha in its previous game, and both coach J. Arun Kumar and captain R. Vinay Kumar have already sought more responsibility from the players as the table-topper prepares to take on bottom-placed Saurashtra in its penultimate Group B match here from Tuesday.

The Dhruv Pandove Cricket Stadium here will be hosting both the teams for the first time ever and going by first impressions of the pitch, both are preparing for a turner that also has an abundance of runs. The game is important for both sides, though for vastly different reasons.

A win here would all but confirm Karnataka, already comfortably ahead of the competition with 30 points from six games and yet to lose, as one of the Ranji Trophy quarterfinalists for the 2016-17 season. The players do not deny that plans for the knockout rounds are already being formulated but insist that the minor speed-breaker in the previous game had given enough of a jolt to everyone to wake up and concentrate on the game at hand.

“Those kind of things are very important imp for a team because if you keep winning, sometimes you tend to forget how to come out (of a difficult situation) if something goes wrong. I can’t say we played good cricket against Odisha, especially in the first innings. The boys have kind of woken up from there and will do well here,” Vinay Kumar insisted.

Wicketkeeper-batsman CM Gautam was the lone bright spot for Karnataka batting while Shreyas Gopal shone with the ball. Gopal and spin partner K. Gowtham would again be important for Karnataka’s success. Along with Abrar Kazi, Karnataka might even go in for a three spin-three seam bowling combination, justified by the fact that the team bats deep – even No. 10 Sreenath Arvind is a handy bat with useful contributions.

Manish Pandey returns in place of Karun Nair though Arun Kumar made it clear that the team would not push Mayank Agarwal down despite his struggles as an opener. “We spoke about how we needed to score fast, at least four runs an over. That approach was evident in the second innings against Odisha and it worked, even our bowlers were more attacking. It’s just a matter of two-three batsmen performing up the order. That positivity is a big takeaway from the previous game and we will look to continue that here,” Vinay Kumar said.

For last year’s runner-up Saurashtra, however, any favourable result here would only help inch closer to avoiding relegation back to Group C, from whence it came. With no wins and a total of six points from as many games, captain Jaydev Shah admitted his team was struggling to adapt against the elite teams. “Last year we came from the Plate group, this is the Elite group. That makes a lot of difference. There have been changes in the side, a few youngsters have come in.

“I think we missed out on outright wins in the first two matches (against Rajasthan and Odisha) but then we didn’t come back well. We lost to a lot of teams that we never expected to, like Assam and Odisha. We are only trying to work hard and concentrate on this game now,” Shah, who completed 100 games as captain in the previous round, said.

Shah has been the standout batsman for his team, the top-scorer with a double century and a 193 against his name and more than 100 runs ahead of a distant second Sheldon Jackson. Among the bowlers, left-arm spinner Dharmendrasinh Jadeja and seamer Jaydev Unadkat have kept the team fighting even in lost causes.

Shah, though, admitted more players need to stand up and deliver if the team hoped to stick around among the big team for another season. “We are last, let’s accept that fact. Our main target now would be not go down the group, hang around here and next year come back with more hard work,” he said.

Teams (from): Karnataka: R. Vinay Kumar (captain), Manish Pandey, Samarth R, Robin Uthappa, Mayank Agarwal, C.M. Gautam, Stuart Binny, Shreyas Gopal, Sreenath Arvind, Abhimanyu Mithn, Abrar Kazi, Mir Kaunanin Abbas, David Mathias, Arjun Hoysala, K. Gowtham, Ronit More.

Saurashtra: Jaydev Shah (captain), Amitoze Singh, Sheldon Jackson, Dharmendrasinh Jadeja, Chirag Jani, Snell Patel, Prerak Mankad, Kushang Patel, Deepak Punia, Jaydev Unadkat, Samarth Vyas, Vandit Jivrajani, Shaurya Sanandiya, Arpit Vasavada, Mohsin Dodia, Sagar Jogiyani, Sunil Yadav, Avi Barot, Hardik Rathod.