Eleven months ago, when Vidarbha stunned Karnataka in a thrilling Ranji Trophy semifinal and eventually ended up winning the title, it was billed as the triumph of the underdog. As the two teams face off at the start of a fresh season, key players are unavailable due to India and India A commitments. And that’s why there is no clear favourite.
The pitch at the Vidarbha Cricket Association stadium in the heart of the Orange City wore a greenish tinge on Sunday morning. But considering that Vidarbha will be without its pace spearheads Umesh Yadav and Rajneesh Gurbani, the strip could sport a different look come Monday morning. But the fact that the defending champion started its season on a sombre note in Pune last week – captain Faiz Fazal dug deep after being forced to follow on by Maharashtra to help the team save the match – Vidarbha coach Chandrakant Pandit would be hoping that the neutral curators would enable the home team to put the inexperienced Karnataka batting line-up under pressure.
On the other hand, Karnataka will have its own problems to tackle. It is starting its quest to regain the Ranji Trophy in what would be its opening game of the season. In a season that will see the team missing seven top players due to India, India A and Emerging Asia Cup commitments, it will be interesting to see how captain R. Vinay Kumar and coach Yere Goud come up with right combinations without letting the youngsters feel demoralised.
With Mayank Agarwal missing at the top, Vinay confirmed that D. Nischal will open the innings with R. Samarth, who will leave the squad along with Karun Nair at the end of the game for India A duties in New Zealand. While Nischal would be hoping to overcome the semifinal demons of Eden Gardens in Kolkata with a strong show, it will be interesting to see if Karnataka fields two debutants on Monday.
While wicket-keeper B.R. Sharath is certain to earn a maiden Ranji cap, K.V. Siddharth could also make his first-class debut.
While Karnataka will miss Agarwal, K.L. Rahul and Manish Pandey in the batting department, barring the absence of lanky off-spinner K. Gowtham, the visiting bowling line-up looks be at full throttle. If Vinay, who had marked his 100th first-class appearance for Karnataka in last December with a hat-trick in the Ranji quarter-final against Mumbai, continues his love affair with Nagpur – although at a different ground, in his 100th Ranji match – Karnataka could well start its season on an ideal note.
Vidarbha: Faiz Fazal (Capt.), Ganesh Satish, Wasim Jaffer, Aditya Sarvate, Siddhesh Wath (w.k.), Atharva Taide, Akshay Wakhare, Akshay Wadkar (w.k.), Apoorv Wankhade, R. Sanjay, Akshay Karnewar, Shreekant Wagh, Suniket Bingewar, Lalit Yadav, Darshan Nalkande.
Karnataka: R. Vinay Kumar (Capt.), Karun Nair, R. Samarth, D. Nischal, Pavan Deshpande, K.V. Siddharth, Stuart Binny, Shishir Bhavane, B.R. Sharath (w.k.), Sharath Srinivas (w.k.), Shreyas Gopal, Abhimanyu Mithun, M Prasidh Krishna, J Suchith, Ronit More.
Umpires: K.N. Ananthapadmanabhan and Rajeev Godara; Match referee: Youraj Singh.