Ranji Trophy: Onerous task for struggling Kerala against Punjab

Kerala hosts Punjab in round five of the 2019-20 Ranji Trophy season at the St. Xavier's College Ground in Thiruvananthapuram.

Kerala captain Sachin Baby and Robin Uthappa will be crucial for the side's chances against Punjab in the Ranji Trophy.   -  V.V. SUBRAHMANYAM

After achieving its best ever performance in the Ranji Trophy, by reaching the semifinals last season, a few would have envisaged such a dreadful scenario of relegation for Kerala this season. 

Half-way through the league, Kerala is precariously placed 17th among 18th teams in the combined elite A & B group and is in the danger zone. Bizarre tactics, poor team selection coupled with a vulnerable batting line-up saw Kerala suffer three consecutive defeats so much that the side has just three points from four matches. 

The side possesses one of the best pace attacks in the country and the bowlers have toiled hard but they were let down by the incompetence of the batsmen. Batting collapses has been a frequent feature in Kerala's campaign this season.

However, Kerala gets the opportunity to put its faltering campaign on the right track when it faces Punjab in a fifth round match at the KCA-St.Xavier’s College ground on Saturday. It will be a test of character for Sachin Baby’s boys as they take on the in-form Punjab which is leading the points table at present.

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Skipper Sachin Baby put up a brave face and said his team was capable of reversing the fortune against a formidable Punjab side. "We haven't played to our potential and it is disappointing. But I think we have enough quality in the side to reverse the trend. We would like to make a fresh start and we not bothered about what happened in the past,'' he said.

Kerala's problems will be further compounded due to an injury to K.M. Asif and the absence of key bowler Sandeep Warrier who has been picked in the India A squad to tour New Zealand. Abhishek Mohan will replace Asif in the squad.

After starting its campaign with two consecutive wins, Punjab has suffered a slight dip in form in the last two encounters, and conceded the first innings lead to Delhi in the last match. The visitor will be keen to rediscover its winning touch against its struggling opponent.

Though the New Zealand bound Shubman Gill will miss this match, Punjab has enough strength in its batting to tide over the loss. The side will also be boosted by return of Siddharth Kaul from injury. Leg spinner Mayank Markande will hold the key on a surface which is progressively expected to aid the slower blowers.

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