Ranji Trophy: Kerala runs into Himachal in must-win contest

Kerala hopes to put behind its defeat against Punjab as it looks to secure a spot in the knockout round.

File Photo: Sanju Samson, Azharudeen, and Vishnu Vinod will hope to be obdurate with the bat against Himachal.   -  S. Mahinsha

Looking to keep their slim chances of entering the knockout round alive, Kerala and Himachal, two inconsistent teams, face each other in an Elite Group ‘B’ contest at the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Stadium here on Monday.

Last week, Kerala was ambushed by the swing and the chilly weather in Mohali against Punjab. It will be no let-up, as it faces similar conditions in Nadaun.

Batting blues

Though Kerala had proved it could win in varied conditions, the 10-wicket defeat to Punjab has once again exposed its batsmen’s susceptibility to swing bowling. In all the three defeats Kerala has suffered this season, the downfall was scripted by rival medium pacers — Avesh Khan (Madhya Pradesh), T. Natarajan (Tamil Nadu) and Sidharth Kaul (Punjab).

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Also, the over-dependence on Jalaj Saxena in both batting and bowling departments has weighed down the all-rounder and his poor run with the bat has compounded Kerala’s problems. Though there have been odd knocks of brilliance from Sachin Baby, Vishnu Vinod and Mohd. Azharuddin, the batting, overall, has lacked consistency.

The biggest concern is the lack of runs from the openers. Despite experimenting with different opening combinations, Kerala has not found a solid opening pair this season.

‘Will play positive cricket’

Sachin Baby, the captain, admitted the team’s batting problems. He believes it is largely due to the inability of his batsmen to adjust to varied pitch conditions.

Sachin Baby: "I hope we will bat well to give our bowlers enough runs to make their task easier." Photo: P. K. Ajith Kumar

 

Looking ahead to the contest against Himachal, he said, “We played on a seaming wicket in Mohali after playing on a turning track in Thumba. The batsmen didn’t have time to adjust. Losing the toss was crucial [to our loss] against Punjab but we are not offering any excuses. We need to win against Himachal with a bonus point to qualify. Himachal is a balanced side with good spinners and medium pacers. They also need a win and have prepared a wicket that will produce [a] result. We will play positive cricket and I hope we will bat well to give our bowlers enough runs to make their task easier,” he said.

The loss to Madhya Pradesh has placed Himachal with a must-win situation against Kerala. Captain Prashant Chopra said it would be an even contest and hoped the familiarity with the pitch and conditions will put his team in good stead. “We have played Kerala in the past and know how good they are. We got a good team and will try to expose Kerala’s weakness in batting,” he said.

The teams (from)
  • Kerala: Sachin Baby (c), Sanju Samson, P. Rahul, Rohan Prem, V. A. Jagadeesh, Arun Karthik, Jalaj Saxena, Vishnu Vinod, Muhammed Azharuddeen, Sijomon Joseph, Akshay Chandran, Sandeep Warrier, Basil Thampi, M. D. Nidheesh, Abhishek Mohan, K. S. Monish and Vinoop S. Manoharan.
  • Himachal: P. S. Chopra (c), A. K. Bains, Arpit N. Guleria, M. J. Dagar, P. P. Jaswal, Rishi Dhawan, A. R. Kumar, A. R. Kalsi, Gurvinder Singh, N. R. Gangta, Raghav Dhawan, E. Sen, A. P. Vasisht, P. S. Khanduri.