Kerala will face its sternest test in the ongoing Ranji Trophy season as it takes on Group B topper Saurashtra at the St. Xavier’ KCA cricket ground, Thumba, from Friday.

Having kept itself afloat for a possible opening into the knockout stage, a win is inevitable for the home side to keep its chances alive. But then, to do so, Kerala will have to put its best foot forward even on familiar conditions as Saurashtra can’t be taken lightly.

The visiting side will miss the services of both Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravindra Jadeja, both are away for national duty.

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The team has been in good nick and has the depth to overcome the absence of its two key players with felicity.

In fact, what Saurashtra, under Jayadev Shah, needs from this match is just a draw and three points to seal its position in the quarterfinals, with one more match at hand. With champions Gujarat, the other team in the reckoning with 20 points — three behind Saurashtra — this fifth round is certainly bound to provide a clear picture on the two qualifiers from this group.

Gujarat plays Rajasthan at home, also from Friday.

With 18 points from its three wins and one loss, Kerala stands five points adrift of Saurashtra, in the third position. Perhaps, the silver lining in the home team’s performance is the all-round display consistently shown by its outstation professional, Jalaj Saxena and the in-form Sanju V. Samson.

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Sanju who scored a brilliant century against Jammu & Kashmir will be well adept to the conditions as the match will be played on the same pitch.

Moreover, what should also stand this talented cricketer in good stead is the superb ton he notched up as captain of the Board President’s XI against Sri Lanka in Kolkata earlier this week.

Also expected to play a prominent role in Kerala’s hunt for a possible win will be its skipper Sachin Baby, southpaw Rohan Prem and the two new left-arm spinners, Sijomon Joseph and K.C. Akshay.

The pitch had proved to be a slow turner in the match against Jammu & Kashmir. But having been exposed to the heavy rain experienced in the

interim, it looks to be in far more perfect condition though it could still assist the spinners after the first two days. Inexplicably, the toss is thus vital for both the teams to find a safe passage and gain crucial points in the process.


Kerala: Sachin Baby (captain), Sanju V. Samson, Rohan Prem, Jalaj Saxena, K.B. Arun Karthick, Sandeep Warrier, Basil Thampi, M.D. Nidheesh, Sijomon Joseph, Salman Nizar, Vishnu Vinod, Fabid Farooque, K.M. Asif, Nikhilesh Surendran and K.C. Akshay

Saurashtra: Jaydev Shah (captain), Robin Uttappa, Sheldon Jackson, Chirag Jani, A.A. Barot, Snell S. Patel, D.A. Jadeja, K.M. Parmar, K.D. Patel, V.M. Jivrajani, Shaurya M. Sanandia, Jaydev Unadkat, Perak Mankad, J.M. Chauhan and Hardik Rathod