Karnataka is certain it will play the knockout round. Uttar Pradesh is equally certain it would not. That puts this Ranji Trophy group `A’ match in the perspective as the teams go through the pre-contest rituals at the Green Park Stadium here.
Karnataka, with two matches to go, has 23 points while Uttar Pradesh ends its campaign here with mere four points to its credit. It’s been a shambolic season thus far for UP and its captain Suresh Raina. When the key figure falters the team is bound to stagger too, and that has really put Raina in a tight spot in his sustained efforts at getting back into the national reckoning.
The Karnataka camp too has a candidate looking to make a comeback – Karun Nair, who has aggregated 321 runs in five innings with a century. A Test triple centurion, Nair finds himself swimming against the tide, struggling to reclaim his position in the Indian team.
After that epic knock of unbeaten 303 against England at Chennai last year, Nair got just three more innings before he was discarded. No explanation has been given to the individual who must begin his career literally from scratch now. Not that Nair does not belong to that league but he must be confounded by the treatment meted out to him by the team management.
Raina, 23 Tests and 223 ODIs old, is equally flummoxed. The yo-yo (fitness) test is held against him but the fact remains that the Uttar Pradesh left-hander has worked on his return with as much diligence as any. Runs have remained elusive and Raina remains optimistic. His last India appearance in an ODI was against South Africa two years ago.
At the end of the Ranji season, Raina has little to show in terms of success at the crease – 105 runs in eight innings. Uttar Pradesh has been served well by Rinku Singh, Upendra Yadav, Saurabh Kumar and Akashdeep Nath in batting but not to the extent of making an impact on the qualification race.
Karnataka has progressed well. Former Test left-arm spinner and State chief selector Raghuram Bhat summed it up appropriately. “Our players are hungry for success and we look at collective effort.” As skipper R. Vinay Kumar put it, “We have played to our potential and it has helped that we have not looked at individual performance. It has been a team effort.”
Mayank Agarwal (534 runs), R. Samarth (405) and Nair have borne the brunt of making runs even as Vinay Kumar, Abhimanyu Mithun, Shreyas Gopal and K. Gowtham have shared the bowling responsibilities. Karnataka has looked the most compact of all teams this season.
The pitch, according to Vinay Kumar, is expected to be “good” for batsmen. “We are not going to take UP lightly,” he insisted. UP, for all its woes, will look to bow out with something to smile about.
The teams (from):
Karnataka: R. Vinay Kumar (c), R. Samarth, Mayank Agarwal, Karun Nair, Manish Pandey, Stuart Binny, C.M. Gautam, K. Gowtham, Shreyas Gopal, A. Mithun, Ronit More, J. Suchith, Pavan Deshpande, Sharath Srinivas, and D. Nischal.
Uttar Pradesh: Suresh Raina (capt), Akashdeep Nath, Umang Sharma, Mohammad Saif, Rinku Singh, Upendra Yadav, Saurabh Kumar, Imtiaz Ahmed, Ankit Rajpoot, Almas Shaukat, Shivam Chaudhary, Eklavya Dwivedi, Dhruv Pratap Singh, Deependra Pandey.