Ranji Trophy semifinals: Kerala awaits mighty Vidarbha

Kerala will have to play out of its skin to overcome the potent defending champion. The two teams clash at the Krishnagiri cricket stadium in Wayanad from Thursday.

New arena: Basil Thampi (right), who has 33 wickets in his kitty this season, will be key to Kerala’s hopes of a triumph in its first-ever Ranji Trophy semifinal contest.   -  PTI

Kerala will have to overcome a mighty hurdle in Vidarbha to make a maiden entry to the final of the Ranji Trophy.

Having qualified for the semifinals for the first time, Kerala faces the defending champion at the Krishnagiri cricket stadium here from Thursday.

With its batting matching a resourceful bowling attack, the host side has looked a balanced unit. Sandeep Warrier (39) and Basil Thampi (33) have forged a devastating new-ball partnership, bagging 72 wickets between them, despite Kerala playing all its four home matches on the turning track in Thumpa, Thiruvananthapuram.

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The two have been ably supported by all-rounder Jalaj Saxena, who has picked up 28 wickets with his off-spin. He is also Kerala’s leading run-scorer this season, with 537 runs from eight matches at an average of 44.75, including two fifties and as many centuries. Skipper Sachin Baby (479), opener Ponnam Rahul (361) and Vishnu Vinod (347) are the other major contributors with the willow.

Off-spinner Vinoop Manoharan and left-arm orthodox Sijomon Joseph, too, stood up to be counted in the quarterfinal win against Himachal Pradesh.

Batting, the strong suit

But even on that count, Kerala will have to play out of its skin to trump a Vidarbha unit which remains in contention to become only the second region — other than a State or a city — after Holkar (1946, 1948, 1951 and 1953) to win the title more than once. The other two such regions to bag the top honours are Nawanagar (1937), and Western India (1944).

Under coach Chandrakant Pandit, who took charge at the beginning of last season, Vidarbha has enjoyed a spectacular run, starting with its first-ever Ranji Trophy title in 2018.

Dav Whatmore, the Kerala head coach, addressing mediapersons in Wayanad on Wednesday. Photo: P. K. Ajith Kumar

 

The effectiveness of Vidarbha's pace-spin combination was on display during an emphatic innings-and-115-run win over Team Uttarakhand in the quarterfinals. Player of the Match Umesh Yadav and left-arm orthodox spinner Aditya Sarwate scythed through the opposition line-up in the second innings, taking five wickets each. The pair would hope to ride the momentum here.

Rajneesh Gurbani’s return from the wrist injury adds further firepower in the pace department.

Turning the clock back

The 40-year-old Wasim Jaffer, meanwhile, continues to stop the clock with his magnificent penchant for big scores. The veteran right-hander, second highest run-scorer this season, is 31 shy of 1000 runs and has four hundreds and two fifties under his belt.

Jaffer took throwdowns on the eve of the semifinal. The forward defence and cover-drive were aplenty as he middled every shot, missing only three.

Read | A chance for Dav Whatmore to make history

Skipper Faiz Fazal, too, has had a fruitful outing, racking up 651 studded with three hundreds and one fifty.

Fazal’s opening partner Sanjay Ramaswamy, who was dropped after managing a meagre 101 runs from his first eight innings, scored a brilliant 112 on his comeback in the quarterfinal and will be a force to reckon with.

The Krishnagiri stadium, with its lush green covering, saw a low-scoring thriller between the host side and Gujarat in the quarterfinals, with pacers from both teams reigning supreme. However, early morning on Wednesday, two groundsmen could be seen scrubbing the surface intently with brushes, perhaps to take some sheen off.

With Vidarbha having scaled the summit last season, and Kerala standing on the cusp of history, the team which holds its nerves well may succeed.

Kerala’s route to the semifinals
  • In Thiruvananthapuram: Drew with Hyderabad.
  • In Thiruvananthapuram: Beat Andhra by nine wickets.
  • In Kolkata: Beat Bengal by nine wickets.
  • In Thiruvananthapuram: Lost to Madhya Pradesh by five wickets.
  • In Chennai: Lost to Tamil Nadu by 151 runs.
  • In Thiruvananthapuram: Beat Delhi by an innings and 27 runs.
  • In Mohali: Lost to Punjab by 10 wickets.
  • In Nadaun: Beat Himachal by five wickets.
  • In Wayanad: Beat Gujarat by 113 runs.

Vidarbha’s route to the semifinals
  • In Pune: Drew with Maharashtra.
  • In Nagpur: Drew with Karnataka.
  • In Nagpur: Drew with Baroda.
  • In Raipur: Beat Chhattisgarh by 10 wickets.
  • In Delhi: Beat Railways by 118 runs.
  • In Nagpur: Drew with Gujarat.
  • In Nagpur: Beat Mumbai by an innings and 146 runs.
  • In Rajkot: Drew with Saurashtra.
  • In Nagpur: Beat Team Uttarakhand by an innings and 115 runs.