Karun Nair sweated it out at practice on Sunday along with the rest of his Karnataka teammates as it was business as usual for the teams at the Karnail Singh Stadium here even as the rest of the country celebrated Republic Day.

Back to leading the side after missing out on the previous game, the newly-married skipper is aware the competition enters its business end now and a win here against Railways, starting Monday, would put the team back in reckoning for a spot in the top-five and in the knockouts. It would not be easy, however, given the inconsistent graph of the former champion this season so far.

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Despite a dominating performance in the shorter formats, winning both the national T20 and one-day titles, Karnataka has struggled in the longer version. It has all the ingredients needed but has failed to produce any individual brilliance. The team is yet to see a century from its batsmen while the bowling unit has struggled in the absence of an injured off-spinner Krishnappa Gowtham after the first game. Gowtham is back for this match.

“Every batsman wants to score and do something exceptional. It’s just a matter of time and believing in yourself and getting it done once or twice. It’s all about clicking in one game. Once that happens, others will also start believing in you and in themselves and you will see things flowing forward,” Nair insisted ahead of the Round VII game.

He isn’t off the mark. The team has had handy half-centuries from several players, including youngster Devdutt Padikkal, the team’s top-scorer across formats this season and Ravikumar Samarth, returning to form in the last few games after a disappointing previous season. Nair himself has two good outings with a high score of 81. The bowlers, Abhimanyu Mithun and Vasuki Koushik, have managed to get decent figures. Both the captain and coach Yere Goud believe things are on the verge of falling in place.

The good thing for the visitor is that the opposition is equally in churn. Railways stunned heavyweight Mumbai to end 2019 on a high but that hasn’t eclipsed the team’s struggles. Captain Karn Sharma has been out for the last two games with a groin strain and will be missing out this one as well. Seamers Himanshu Sangwan and T. Pradeep, who have done the bulk of the work in bowling, have found little support from the rest barring medium-pacer Amit Mishra. The absence of an effective spinner in the middle sessions has hurt the team.

Former captain Mahesh Rawat is back, which means the team’s top-scorer and wicketkeeper Dinesh Mor may have to sit out. Rawat himself was the team’s top-scorer last year but was dropped due to alleged disciplinary issues and termed a ‘divisive factor’ in the dressing room. His return would be welcome for the wealth of experience he brings both in front of and behind the stumps but it remains to be seen how the team reacts.

Playing its penultimate game and currently 11th on the table, Railways’ hopes of making the top-five are, at best, mathematical. Karnataka, though, is 7th with 17 points and with a game in hand, would like to go home for its last two games on a winning high.