Ranji Trophy 2019-20: Winless Kerala down but not out

The defeat to Gujarat in Surat was Kerala's second of the Ranji Trophy season 2019-20, putting the side in a spot of bother with six league fixtures left.

Sanju Samson (right) will miss Kerala's fourth-round match against Hyderabad.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Only one-third of the league phase of the Ranji Trophy is complete, but Kerala already finds itself in a spot of bother. It is placed 15th among the 18 teams that make up Groups A and B.

After qualifying for the knock-out phase for the last two seasons in a row, it is certainly not a position Dav Whatmore’s boys would have anticipated to be in at this stage of the tournament. It is too early to pronounce they are out, though they are down at the moment.

They are winless after three games. Last season, when the tournament was held in the same format, they had posted four wins to take the fourth of the five qualifying spots available. Interestingly, they had lost three.

Kerala could take heart from that bit of statistics: it has lost only two games this season after all. But, the more important point is that it needs to win a few games, beginning with the next one at Hyderabad (from January 3).

Read: Sachin Baby's men lose inside three days again

If Sachin Baby’s men could force a victory against a Hyderabad team that is going through some horrid time (it is placed at the bottom after losing all its three games), they could play their last two home games, against Punjab and Rajasthan, in a more confident frame of mind.

Punjab, though, is leading the table at the moment with 17 points. Saurashtra (13), Gujarat (12), Vidarbha (11) and Karnataka (10) complete the top five at this stage. With just three points, Kerala thus has a lot of catching up to do.

The team also has to address a grave problem: it will have to play most of the remaining matches without its two best players. Sanju Samson and Sandeep Warrier will be away on national duty.

Samson has already left the city and will join the Indian team for the T20I series against Sri Lanka. So he won’t be available for the match against Hyderabad.

Sandeep is likely to play at Hyderabad, but not in any of the remaining league matches since he will be in New Zealand with India A team. Sanju too will be there for most of that tour, though he could be back for Kerala’s last match, against Vidarbha at Nagpur, starting on February 7.

The absence of these two key players is indeed a blow, especially at a time when Kerala is struggling. The two pacers, Basil Thampi and K.M. Asif did well here, but they have to be steadier if they want to make their team miss Sandeep less.

Kerala must also be hoping that Rohan Prem recovers from his injury to lessen the blow dealt by the departure of Sanju.

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